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Ship joins international convoy

By Zhou Wa | China Daily | Updated: 2014-01-06 07:55

 Ship joins international convoy

Visitors get a close look at the Chinese frigate Yancheng, which is docked at the Cypriot port of Limassol. The frigate is awaiting its upcoming voyage to provide security support for the removal of Syria's chemical weapons. Xinhua

Vessel to assist in transfer of Syria's chemical weapons

A Chinese frigate has docked at the Cypriot port of Limassol in preparation for its mission to provide security support for the removal of Syria's chemical weapons, Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.

The frigate Yancheng, which is scheduled to participate in the United Nations mission, arrived at the southern Cypriot port in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday. The vessel will assist in securing the transport of chemical weapons materials from the Syrian coast, across the Mediterranean to a US ship in an Italian port, where the chemicals will be destroyed.

On arrival in Limassol, the Yancheng was welcomed by Chinese Ambassador to Cyprus Liu Xinsheng and Cypriot Defense Minister Fotis Fotiou.

The operation is the first time the People's Liberation Army navy has participated in an international convoy in the area and the first time a Chinese naval vessel has anchored in the European country.

Yancheng's arrival in Cyprus for the escort mission shows the Chinese government's support for the efforts of the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Chinese ambassador said.

The port is about 250 kilometers west of the Syrian port city of Latakia, from where the chemicals will be shipped.

In October, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2118, which outlines the details of putting Syria's chemical arsenal under international control and ultimately destroying it.

Under a plan adopted by the OPCW in The Hague in November, most critical chemicals in Syria should have been removed from the country by Dec 31 and destroyed by mid-March, while all other declared chemical materials should be eliminated by June 30.

But due to logistical challenges, bad weather and the volatile situation in Syria, the plan was delayed.

"The Yancheng's involvement in the project shows that the international community acknowledges the capability of the Chinese navy and that the development of the Chinese navy is beneficial to world peace," said Zhang Junshe, deputy director of the Naval Military Studies Research Institute.

Chen Kai, secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told Chinese media that Yancheng's convoy is part of an international task within a UN framework and confirms the validity of China's security concept, which advocates resolving problems through international cooperation.

China has repeatedly called for a political resolution to the Syrian conflict. In late October, Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for efforts to find a negotiated solution while simultaneously destroying the chemical weapons in the country.

According to the Cypriot defense minister, the government of Cyprus will lend its full support to the task of destroying Syrian chemical weapons and provide those nations taking part with all necessary facilities.

"I hope that operation will finish successfully very soon," he said.

During the convoy operation, the Yancheng will join a flotilla of vessels from Norway and Denmark that had previously been anchored in Limassol but headed for Syria late on Friday. The Danish-Norwegian flotilla headed for Syria in order to escort a delayed shipment of more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, according to the Famagusta Gazette.

Neither Chinese nor Cypriot officials could say exactly when the task would begin. However, the Cypriot defense minister said after meeting Chinese officials that he expected the operation would start "any day now."

Referring to the delayed plan, the Danish task group commander, Commodore Torben Mikkelsen, said no new date has been announced for transporting Syrian chemical arms, but two cargo ships and their warship escorts would hold station outside Syrian territorial waters in readiness for new orders.

"With regard to the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, multinational cooperation has been intensified, which shows the high importance each party attaches to resolving the regional security issue in that Middle East country," said Zhang, the military expert.

"It is another good example of international cooperation after the joint patrol in the Gulf of Aden," he said.

Russia will also be providing escort security for the convoy carrying Syria's chemical weapons, which will be loaded onto two cargo ships and escorted to Italy, where a US ship equipped with toxin neutralizing equipment will take over.

Xinhua and Reuters contributed to this story.



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