U.N. dismantling weapons inspectors' lab in Iraq
July 14, 1999
From staff and wire reports
BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A team of U.N. experts arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday to dismantle a laboratory in which U.N. arms inspectors left behind mustard gas and other chemical agents.
U.N. special envoy Prakash Shah, a representative of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will lead the team. He told reporters he was confident the mission to rid the U.N. compound of poisonous toxins would go smoothly.
"They have brought their own equipment in order to complete their job and that, they have assured me, is something they know about," Shah said.
The laboratory belongs to the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) in charge of dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Former UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler said his weapons inspectors safely stored one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of mustard gas and small amounts of other toxic materials at the facility.
Butler also said the gas was found in Iraq, and the other materials were brought into Iraq by UNSCOM to calibrate testing equipment.
Shortly after the team arrived, Shah told reporters: "The mandate of the team is to destroy the chemical calibration substances that are there, as well as the mustard gas and biological samples and to close the chemical laboratory and the biological room."
Chemical agents pose no hazard, Butler says
When asked if the team would face any danger at the lab, Shah said, "The UNSCOM former chairman has already informed the Security Council that chemical agents that are inside the building are safely stored and they cause no hazard to the people around."
Iraq has said the lab contains explosives that could blow up at any moment.
Some U.N. staff at the building had requested "hazard pay" after UNSCOM left the materials last December on the eve of U.S. and British bombings of Iraq.
The team that will dismantle the lab includes three specialists from South Africa, Russia and China, a German biologist and a Polish doctor.
Iraqi officials welcomed the team, which arrived at Baghdad's U.N. headquarters from Jordan.
"We think that it is very important that a speedy effort be taken to remove or render harmless all the poisonous and toxic materials," said Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Nizar Hamdoon.
The U.N. team will be watched by diplomats from France, Russia and China, three countries generally regarded as sympathetic to Iraq. Iraqi officials believe their presence will help ensure the lab is safely dismantled.
Correspondent James Martone and Reuters contributed to this report.
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