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Gorbachev warns of possible weapons catastrophe

Mikhail Gorbachev called for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in his address to the Swiss parliament

(Keystone)

On a visit to Switzerland, the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, has warned of a potential human and environmental catastrophe as global powers dismantle their weapons of mass destruction.

In a speech at the Swiss parliament in Bern on Tuesday, Gorbachev described the destruction of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons as one of the most important tasks facing mankind in the new millennium.

And he urged western nations to do more to help Russia destroy its arsenal.

He praised Switzerland for its speedy ratification of the international accords on chemical and biological weapons, but said much work needed to be done before the accords were fully implemented and supervised.

Gorbachev said the world faced major health and environmental problems as countries destroyed their bombs, nuclear submarines, rockets and warheads. In particular, he said, there were 150 nuclear-powered submarines, and thousands of tonnes of chemical weapons buried on the seabed.

Gorbachev cited the situation in Russia as an example of the scale of the problem. He said the country still had 40,000 tonnes of chemical weapons waiting to be destroyed, but that western nations had supplied only a tiny fraction of the SFr10 to SFr17 billion ($5.8 to $9 million) needed for the operation. He described this as "short-sighted and dangerous".

A chemical weapon, he warned, was small enough to smuggle into a sports stadium in a rucksack, but big enough to kill thousands of innocent people.

He said he had written to 40 heads of state, including the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, urging them to help Russia destroy its weapons of mass destruction. Neutral and respected countries like Switzerland, he said, could play a key role in ensuring there was sufficient political will to eliminate the weapons.

Gorbachev said he had received an encouraging reply from Ogi.

The two houses of the Swiss parliament interrupted their winter session to listen to his address. It is the second time he has spoken in parliament - the last time was in 1993.

Shortly before he spoke, the Senate approved an increase in Switzerland's payments towards the destruction of weapons of mass destruction. It will now pay two per cent of the global cost of destroying chemical weapons.

Gorbachev is in Switzerland at the invitation of the environmental organisation, the Green Cross, of which he is president.

swissinfo with agencies


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