Global chemical watchdog wins Nobel Peace Prize; Syrian rebels call it 'premature step'
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Efforts to eliminate chemical weapons won a Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for the global watchdog trying to destroy Syria's stockpiles of nerve gas and other poisonous agents.
By giving its prestigious prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Norwegian Nobel Committee turned the spotlight both on Syria's devastating civil war and on a type of weapon that has horrified nations since World War I.
The reaction in Syria was notably polarized. A senior Syrian rebel called the award a "premature step" that will divert the world's attention from "the real cause of the war" while a lawmaker from Syria's ruling party declared the Nobel to be a vindication of President Bashir Assad's government.
The OPCW was formed in 1997 to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, the first international treaty to outlaw an entire class of weapons. Based in The Hague, Netherlands, it has largely worked out of the limelight until this year, when the U.N. called upon its expertise to help investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
"The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law," the Nobel Committee said in Oslo. "Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons."
Friday's award comes just days before Syria officially joins as OPCW's 190th member state on Monday. OPCW inspectors are already on a risky U.N.-backed disarmament mission based in Damascus to verify and destroy the government's arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents.
"Events in Syria have been a tragic reminder that there remains much work still to be done," OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu told reporters in The Hague. "Our hearts go out to the Syrian people who were recently victims of the horror of chemical weapons."
"I truly hope that this award and the OPCW's ongoing mission together with the United Nations in Syria will (help) efforts to achieve peace in that country and end the suffering of its people," he said.
He said the $1.2 million prize money would be used "for the goals of the convention" — to eliminate chemical weapons.
By giving the peace award to an international organization, the Nobel committee highlighted the Syrian civil war, now in its third year, without siding with any of the groups involved. The fighting has killed more than 100,000 people, devastated many cities and towns and forced millions of Syrians to flee their homes and country.
U.N. war crimes investigators have accused both Assad's government and the rebels of wrongdoing, although they say the scale and intensity of regime abuses are greater than the rebel abuses.
Louay Safi, a senior figure in Syria's main opposition bloc, called the Nobel award "a premature step."
"If this prize is seen as if the chemical weapons inspections in Syria will help foster peace in Syria and in the region, it's a wrong perception," Safi told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Qatar.
"But demolishing the regime's chemical weapons alone will not bring peace to Syria, because many more people are dying because Assad's troops are killing them with all types of conventional weapons," he said.
Fayez Sayegh, a lawmaker and member of Assad's ruling Baath party, told the AP the award underscores "the credibility" of the Damascus government. He said Syria is "giving an example to countries that have chemical and nuclear weapons."
After an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in Syria, Assad faced the prospect of possibly devastating U.S. strikes against his military. To avert that, he admitted his chemical weapons stockpile and his government quickly signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and allowed OPCW inspectors to enter the country.
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