ORGANISATION FOR THE PROHIBITION OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS
The Hague, 20 July 1999
Media and Public Affairs
External Relations Division
(FOR USE OF INFORMATION MEDIA Ė NOT AN OFFICIAL RECORD)
Statement by the Director-General
OPCW EXPERTS MISSION TO IRAQ: AN UPDATE
The OPCW Director-General, José M. Bustani today issued the following statement on the current status of the ongoing mission of the OPCW team of four experts to Iraq. (Please refer to Press Release 015/99 of 8 July for background on this mission). The mission of the experts is to assist the United Nations in the closure of the UNSCOM chemical laboratory in the Baghdad Monitoring and Verification Centre (BMVC), including, inter alia, through the destruction of some chemical agent reference standards and mustard agent samples in the laboratory .
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Upon arrival in Baghdad on 14 July the OPCW team met with the United Nations Secretary-Generalís Special Envoy in Iraq, Mr Prakash Shah, and the Iraqi authorities and on 15 July with the three diplomatic observers from the Chinese, French and Russian Embassies in Baghdad.
On 18 July after a number of policy issues were resolved by the UN, the OPCW team made its first entry into the laboratory. No contamination was detected.
The OPCW team was specifically instructed by the Director-General to adhere strictly to its mandate. It was emphasised to the observers in Baghdad that the OPCW experts were provided on loan to the UN for this operation; it was therefore not proper to refer to the team as a "UN team of international experts". The UN mission is in fact composed of: Mr Prakash Shah, Mr Ylitalo, acting Director of BMVC, the OPCW team, Dr Beyer, a biologist from Germany, and the three diplomatic observers mentioned above.
The inventory of the chemical samples in the laboratory has now been completed and the destruction of chemical agent standards and the mustard agent samples have commenced.
An update on specific issues follows:
1. Options for waste disposal. The UN Secretary-Generalís Envoy in Iraq took the decision that the waste products from the disposal operation should be mixed with sand and concrete to form a concrete block, and should not be stored at the UN Headquarters in Baghdad (Canal Hotel site) but rather handed to the Iraqi authorities for disposal.
2. Access for diplomatic observers. The OPCW teamís position with respect to the three observers has been and remains that their presence or absence is a decision for the UN Representative, Mr Prakash Shah. The teamís only concern is to ensure the safety of the team members and any observers present in the building.
3. Access provided by the UN to the OPCW team of experts. One of the observers expressed concern that permission had been given to the team by the UN to occupy one of UNSCOMís offices at BMVC in the absence of observers. This issue was dealt with and resolved by Mr Shah and the UN Headquarters in New York. The team was in fact permitted to set up its work space in the administrative area of the BMVC. UNSCOM, however, had two distinctly separate areas at the Canal Hotel. The team was given access to UNSCOMís administrative area for the purposes of setting up its communication equipment, computers, and for storing other equipment. The operational area where the laboratory is located is separate from the administrative area. The operational area has one entrance and two exits. This area was closed and sealed with UNSCOM seals when UNSCOM departed Iraq last December. The seals were found by the UN and the OPCW team to be intact. No entry into that area was made in the absence of observers.
4. Implementation of the mission mandate.
First entry into the laboratory took place on Sunday, 18 July. All three observers were present. At first one observer and Mr Shah wearing individual protective equipment (IPE) accompanied two team members into the corridor and the chemical laboratory while the two other observers watched from the safe area. After monitoring had shown that no contamination was detected all three observers were allowed to view the laboratory. The laboratory air conditioning was working.
A problem was, however, identified with the laboratory fume cupboard. The air extract rate from the cupboard was unacceptably low. Further investigation revealed that this was due to the air extract motor which was malfunctioning; this problem has now been resolved. In addition, all filters on the fume cupboard have been replaced with new filter units.
The team has made an inventory of the samples in the laboratory and this afternoon, 20 July, commenced the destruction of the mustard samples.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) came into existence on 29 April 1997. The verification provisions of the Convention consist of a combination of detailed declaration requirements and routine inspections of declared stocks of chemical weapons and chemical industry facilities, as well as of short-notice challenge inspections at any location under the jurisdiction or control of any State Party.
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