Weapons proliferation 'key concern' in Libya: US

Libya

The potential proliferation of both conventional and unconventional weapons in Libya after six months of civil war is a 'key concern' for the United States, a senior American official has said.

The conflict that ended Moammar Gaddafi's 42-year rule and sent the former dictator into hiding also threw open the gates to his regime's extensive armories. The country's new leaders, who are struggling to establish a government, have failed to secure many of the weapons caches. Witnesses have watched looters, former rebel fighters or anyone with a truck carry them away.

In another diplomatic development, a member of the Libyan council said late Wednesday that the leaders of Britain and France will visit Tripoli on Thursday. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and French President Nicolas Sarkozy would be the first heads of government to arrive in Tripoli since Gaddafi fled. Their offices would not comment.

Earlier Wednesday, US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffery Feltman told reporters in Tripoli that Washington already has people working with Libya's new rulers about the possible proliferation of shoulder-fired missiles, as well as dangerous chemicals like mustard gas.

"This is certainly an issue we are concerned with, the Libyan officials are concerned with, because it poses potential risks not only to Libyans, but to the region as a whole", said Feltman, who was in Tripoli for talks with the former rebels' National Transitional Council.

Journalists and human rights groups have discovered huge weapons depots around Tripoli since the former rebels swept into the capital Aug. 21. Many of the sites are poorly guarded and have already been looted of mines, mortars and even shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles designed to bring down airplanes, helicopters or drones.

The greatest concern, however, is the proliferation of unconventional weapons, such as mustard gas and other chemical agents.

Despite worries about other weapons, Feltman said "to the best of our knowledge" stores of mustard gas "are containerized in bulk form accountable to the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), and we believe from monitoring that they are where they are supposed to be."

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