BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium on Monday ruled itself out as a candidate to host the destruction of Syria's poison gas stockpile and said it would prefer the arsenal to be eradicated close to Syria itself.
Defense Minister Pieter De Crem said that "the movement of those weapons is a tough enough task in itself" and crossed out Belgium as a possible destination.
"To do that here at home — I don't see that at first sight, and also not in the long term," he told VRT network.
After Albania refused to take on the task Friday, Belgium — as well as France — had been considered a possible candidate, if only because it has a long history of destroying the gas arsenal from World War I.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has adopted a plan to destroy Damascus's estimated 1,300-ton arsenal, which includes mustard gas and sarin, outside Syria, but has yet to find a country willing to host the risky operation.
The OPCW has not released any names of countries where the weapons could be destroyed, but says it remains confident it can wipe out the entire arsenal by mid-2014. Norway has said it will send a civilian cargo ship and navy frigate to pick up the stockpile.
Wherever it happens, the destruction of Syria's weapons will be overseen by experts from the OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for its efforts to eradicate poison gas around the world.
Poison gas was first used in Belgium during World War I and many thousands of canisters still lie buried in the farm fields straddling western Belgium and northern France. Belgium still has operational forces specialized in neutralizing the gas.
Mike Corder contributed from The Hague, Netherlands.
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