Disarming Syria’s chemical weapons in a war zone

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

OPCW director
Ahmet Uzumcu, the director-general of the OPCW.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is keeping up the work that earned it the Nobel Peace Prize last week, as it bravely moves deeper into war-torn Syria. Unfortunately, this task is proving very difficult, since both the Syrian government and rebels continue fighting in areas the OPCW needs to reach.

After the August 21 chemical attack near the capital city of Damscus, the US and Russia struck a deal with Syria that forces them to give up their chemical weapons. This agreement avoided a US-led military strike that President Barack Obama had promised would come if the Syrian government ever used such attacks on its people.

Now that the country officially became part of the Chemical Weapons Convention on Monday, joining 189 other nations who agree to never use such toxic materials in war, it’s especially important that OPCW workers move quickly to destroy the weapons.

Oh, but who would attack the OPCW, you ask? Well, volunteer workers in from the Red Cross, an organization that only visits nations to offer healing and disaster relief, were recently kidnapped in Syria! So, even perfectly peaceful groups can find themselves in life-threatening situations.

Since October 1, the OPCW and the United Nations have had a team of 60 experts and support staff in Syria, based in Damascus.  Trying to access some of the buildings where chemical weapons are developed is tough, since the roads often go through war zones. The leader of the OPCW, director-general Ahmet Uzumcu, says that the roads “change hands from one day to another” and that he hopes both sides can be more cooperative, rather than making “this mission more difficult.” As far as the recent Nobel prize, Uzumcu is happy that it provided a “very big boost” of encouragement to the OPCW workers.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John F. Kerry has asked for a peace conference in Geneva, Switzerland, to help set up a temporary government. “There has to be a transition government in Syria to permit the possibility of peace,” he explained.

Featured image courtesy of United Nations. Image of Ahmet Uzumcu courtesy of OPCW Facebook.