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Experts begin dismantling Syrian chemical program

| Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, 8:15 p.m.

International disarmament experts on Sunday began dismantling and destroying Syria's chemical weapons arsenal and the equipment used to produce it, taking the first concrete step in their colossal task of eliminating the country's chemical stockpile by mid-2014, an official said.

The inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have about nine months to purge President Bashar Assad's regime of its chemical program. The mission, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, has the tightest deadline in the watchdog group's history and must simultaneously navigate Syria's bloody civil war.

Sunday marked the fifth day that an advance team of about 20 inspectors have been in the country and the first day that involved disabling and destroying weapons and machinery, an official on the joint OPCW-U.N. mission said.

The team oversaw Syrian personnel who used cutting torches and disc saws to destroy and disable a range of items, including missile warheads, aerial bombs, and mixing and filling equipment, the OPCW said in a statement.

The Syrians are responsible for the physical demolition of the materials, while OPCW inspectors monitor the process and verify what is being destroyed, the official said.

This is just the beginning of a complicated process to eliminate Syria's estimated 1,000-ton chemical weapons stockpile and the facilities that produced it. Damascus developed its chemical program in the 1980s and 1990s, building an arsenal that is believed to contain mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin VX and tabun.

The production and storage facilities are understood to be scattered across the country.

Members of the team are planning visits to every location where chemicals or weapons are stored — from trucks loaded with munitions up to full-on production sites.

The civil war has laid waste to the nation's cities, shattered its economy, killed about 100,000 people and driven more than 2 million people to seek shelter abroad. Nearly 5 million people have been displaced within the country, which has become a patchwork of rebel-held and regime-held territory.

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