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Published: Thursday March 20, 2014 MYT 2:02:51 PM
Updated: Thursday March 20, 2014 MYT 2:03:56 PM

Nearly half of Syrian chemicals removed - chemical mission

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Nearly half of Syria's declared chemical weapons have been shipped out of the country after two more cargoes were loaded onto vessels in the Mediterranean over the last week, the international team overseeing the disarmament process said.

The joint mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement late on Wednesday that 45.6 percent of the chemicals had been removed from Syria's Latakia port for destruction outside the country.

Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons program last year in a deal with Russia and the United States, but it is several months behind schedule and risks missing a June 30 deadline for the chemicals to be destroyed.

It has asked to be given until April 27 to complete the removal of the chemicals, which would put the mission two-and-a-half months behind schedule.

Syrian authorities, battling a three-year uprising and insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad, blame security problems for the delays in bringing the chemicals to the Mediterranean port Latakia.

Five rockets were fired towards the Latakia port area earlier this month, with one landing near to where the international chemical team were staying, sources said on Tuesday.

The joint UN-OPCW mission said the delivery of the latest two consignments to vessels off Latakia means that 29.5 percent of the 'Priority 1' chemicals, considered the most dangerous, have been removed and 82.6 percent of 'Priority 2' chemicals.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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