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Swiss "pleased" with chemical conference

A routine check of toxic agents at a Russian chemical weapons storage site

(Keystone)

The Swiss representative to an organisation against chemical weapons says "enormous progress" has been made at the annual conference in The Hague.

Ambassador Wilhelm Schmid said there had been a "marked increase" in interest in international cooperation to destroy and prevent the use of chemical weapons.

Schmid told swissinfo that levels of cooperation had noticeably increased among African states, "who have this extremely laudable approach of wishing to declare their continent free of all forms of weapons of mass destruction".

The weeklong conference is held every year by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

It is a major forum for discussing and deciding on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), an international treaty that bans the use of chemical weapons.

"The chemical weapon threat decreases day by day because of the system put into effect by this convention and the states adhering to it," said Schmid.

This year a record number of the 175 states that have signed the CWC attended the annual five-day conference.

For the first time, Syria was present, together with Angola, Iraq and Lebanon – four of the eight states that have not as yet taken action on this treaty.

Agreement

This year delegates considered the CWC's implementation on such matters as the total elimination of declared chemical weapons stockpiles and production capacity, in addition to the OPCW's budget and work plan for 2006.

"We must be one of the very rare organisations that manage to prepare a budget that is generally acceptable and adopted without much fuss," said Schmid.

In 2005 the OPCW's budget was €75,695,000 (SFr116 million).

Schmid said delegates had also agreed on an action plan assuring general implementation of the conference – "an international agreement is only as good as its implementation" – and on a work programme regarding international cooperation.

The work plan includes the number of approved inspections of chemical weapons-related and relevant industrial sites, in addition to the international support programmes set up to ensure the global ban's effective application.

"We are really quite pleased," he said.

Terrorist threat

OPCW efforts are set at the state level, but what of the danger of chemical weapons at a sub-state level? Schmid acknowledges the risk of terrorist groups or individuals getting hold of such weapons.

"Unsurprisingly this is an issue that came up [at the conference] – especially in the context of the enormous unrest that you find in Central Africa – in the Eastern Congo, Uganda and so on," he said.

"The people causing problems are militias and theoretically anything can fall into their hands. Practically, it hasn't happened yet – as far as we know."

Schmid said here the cooperation of the governments concerned and of the industry – which he thinks the organisation has – is essential in order to do as much as possible to prevent that scenario from happening.

"But it is not yet a subject which is centrally on the agenda of this organisation."

The 11th OPCW conference is set to take place at the beginning of December 2006.

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

In brief

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was established in 1997 by the countries that have joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to make sure that the convention works effectively and achieves its purpose.

Currently 175 of 191 states have signed the CWC.

The OPCW is an independent international organisation, working in the interests of its member states.

The director-general of the OPCW is Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, an Argentine of Swiss ancestry.

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