Controversy over dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons in Albania

This article originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0.  Available here in Albanian, English and Serbian.

Albanians are pissed off about a recent great idea by NATO to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles in Albania. The Syrian government has 1000 tons of chemical weapons to get rid of, following the signing of an agreement between Syrian president Assad and the UN in September. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has yet to make a definitive statement about whether Albania will agree to this arrangement or not. Two days ago, Rama stated “if we bring them in, the dismantling of these weapons won’t be dangerous. We’ll be monitored by NATO specialists.”

That’s not very comforting news for ordinary Albanians. Albania has a poor track record of getting rid of its own weapon stockpiles. In 2008, a weapons holding area in Gerdec, Albania, exploded — killing 28 people and injuring approximately 300 more. The accident was a result of the Albanian Ministry of Defense’s failure to ensure that the right people were doing the job. In this case, Southern Ammunition, an American company that had been contracted to properly dispose of the ammunition, subcontracted an Albanian company to do the actual dismantling. It still is unclear why the Gerdec explosions took place. So why has Albania been given the honor of destroying Syria’s chemical stockpiles? In 2007, Albania was the first country in the world to completely destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, which amounted to approximately 17,000 kilograms of weapons. It cost 48 million dollars, and the dismantling was done in cooperation with (and with the funding of) the American government.

A series of protests have been held over the past few days in Albania, Kosovo and amongst the Albanian diaspora in Italy; the protests are being organized by environmental organizations, students, opposition party supporters, and ordinary citizens — even Kosovar supporters of the Albanian national soccer team held a protest in front of the Albanian embassy in Prishtina on Tuesday. Opponents of the idea cite problems such as Albania’s lack of expertise in dismantling chemical weapons, the high risk of environmental degradation, and the health risks in terms of possible contamination. Simply put, they don’t believe that the Albanian government can properly dispose of chemical weapons, with or without the help of NATO monitors. Albania’s Alliance against Waste Imports (AKIP) is circulating an online petition, demanding that the government refuse NATO’s request.

The most frustrating part of the whole issue is the fact that Prime Minister Rama has not yet made his position clear. The latest governmental line is that NATO’s request is not definitive, with the caveat that if Albania has to make a decision, it will be made with the utmost transparency. This non-answer is a diplomatic position for a recently elected Prime Minister to take, and it’s frustrating for Albanians who want a clear answer on where their government stands on turning their country into a dumping ground for the chemical stockpiles of Syria.

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