TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday the country's caches of chemical weapons, including bombs and artillery shells filled with mustard gas, have been completely destroyed.
"Libya is totally empty of any presence of chemical weapons ... which could pose a threat to the safety of people, the environment, or neighboring regions," Mohammed Abdel-Aziz said in remarks carried by Libya's state news agency.
The eradication of the weapons, which date from the era of slain dictator Moammar Gadhafi, marks an important success for Libya, even as Syria, its neighbor in the eastern Mediterranean, is struggling to destroy its own chemical weapons hoard amid a civil war.
Under Gadhafi, Libya declared in 2004 it had 25 metric tons of sulfur mustard and 1,400 metric tons of precursor chemicals used to make chemical weapons. It also declared more than 3,500 unfilled aerial bombs designed for use with chemical warfare agents such as sulfur mustard, and three chemical weapons production facilities.
At the time, Gadhafi was trying to shed his image as an international outcast and restore relations with Western governments by destroying his existing weapons of mass destruction and abandoning aspirations to obtain a nuclear bomb.
By the start of Libya's civil war in 2011, the country had destroyed 55 percent of its declared sulfur mustard and 40 percent of the precursor chemicals.
Gadhafi didn't or couldn't use chemical weapons during the fighting. After the revolution, the new government uncovered some additional munitions loaded with mustard gas that hadn't previously been disclosed.
Destruction resumed in early 2013 at a facility in remote Ruwagha, some 370 miles (600 kilometers) south of Tripoli.
The director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which assists countries in verifiably destroying their chemical weapons, said destroying Libya's weapons had been a "major undertaking."
The work was done in "arduous, technically challenging circumstances," OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement, crediting cooperation between Libya and his own organization, as well as help from Germany and the U.S.
Preparations will now be made to destroy Libya's remaining precursor chemicals by the end of 2016.
Associated Press reporters Toby Sterling and Maggie Michael contributed to this story from Amsterdam and Cairo.