Last updated: 5 March, 2014

March is critical month for Syria chemical arms drive

March will be a “critical” month for Syria if it is to maintain its timetable for dismantling its chemical weapons arsenal, the UN official tasked with overseeing the mission said on Wednesday.

“The month of March, as I informed the Security Council, is the critical month to look at continued progress towards the overall deadline,” said Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator for a joint mission by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to disassemble the weapons.

She made her remarks after briefing members of the Security Council early Wednesday by Damascus toward the goal of destroying or handing over its arsenal of banned weapons before a June 30 deadline.

After Damascus missed several key dates, the UN Security Council last week demanded that it move faster.

Prior to a shipment Monday, the United States estimated that Damascus had shipped out just five percent of its stockpile.

The Syrian government blamed the delays on insecurity in the country, where it is locked in a brutal war with rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.

Kaag said however that there has been “an acceleration and an intensification” of effort by Damascus, and that about 35 percent of weapons material now has been shipped.

“A number of shipments have taken place and will continue to take place,” she said.

“About one third of Syrian chemical weapons materials has been removed or destroyed, Kaag said.

Over the next few days, she added, “we expect to reach already 40 or 41 percent, and we look forward to see continued progress.”

Kaag also praised the “unity of purpose and voice of the Security Council” after briefing its members.

Syria agreed to hand over its chemical weapons for destruction after Washington threatened military action in response to a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus in August 2013.

The United States and the Syrian opposition blamed the attack, which reportedly killed hundreds of people, on the Syrian regime.

It denied involvement, but under pressure agreed to dismantle its chemical weapons program.