Tue, Dec 30, 2003 - Page 7 News List

UN team inspects Libyan nuclear sites

MAKING A START The IAEA visited four sites in the area around the capital, as Libya began to make good its promise to end research into weapons of mass destruction


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspected four previously unvisited nuclear sites in the Tripoli area on Sunday and held technical talks with Libyan officials, an IAEA spokesman said.

"I can confirm that inspections did commence," a week after Tripoli said it was giving up weapons of mass destruction, spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei "and his team went to four nuclear sites previously unvisited and all of them were in the Tripoli area", Gwozdecky said.

"Right now, we are continuing our technical discussions with the Libyan authorities to develop a work plan for the days and weeks ahead," he said.

ElBaradei, director-general of the UN nuclear watchdog, and his team, which arrived on Saturday for a three-day visit, met on Sunday with Matouk Mohamed Matouk, deputy premier and head of the Libyan nuclear program.

An IAEA source, who asked not to be named, said of the talks: "We got a detailed briefing in the history of the nuclear activity and we tried to establish a baseline to obtain key documents and maps.

"We tried to lay out a game plan for the coming days to establish sites needed to be visited, what individuals we would like to interview and obtain key documents that would help us to fill in the gaps in our understanding [of the Libyan nuclear program]."

The source said that discussions would continue yesterday.

The IAEA was expected to have started its site visits at the Tajura experimental reactor, 15km southeast of Tripoli.

The Tajura site has been under IAEA supervision since 1980 and "is the heart of the Libyan nuclear program," according to a Western diplomat.

The IAEA was also to have given an impromptu press conference for the international media at 6pm in their hotel, but it was called off for what the foreign ministry called "security reasons."

Tripoli had given assurances before the IAEA mission that the visit would take place with good access for the media. But reporters have so far had little contact with the IAEA team or Libyan officials.

ElBaradei was to have talks yesterday with Prime Minister Shukri Mohammed Ghanem, the IAEA spokesman said, followed by "another rendezvous" which observers said might be with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The IAEA chief was to return to his Vienna headquarters later yesterday, Gwozdecky said.

On his arrival in the Libyan capital, ElBaradei said indications were that Tripoli's nuclear program was only at the pilot stage, but that full verification still needed to be done.

The UN delegation was met by Libya's Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Shalgam, who vowed to cooperate fully with the watchdog.

"Libya will cooperate with the agency with complete transparency and sign the additional protocol to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty]," Shalgam said.

The protocol is the principal means by which the international community keeps its eye on countries which may be trying to build an atomic bomb.

For his part, ElBaradei said he was working under the assumption that Libya would sign the additional protocol, adding that it appeared as if Libya had developed some uranium-enrichment capabilities.

ElBaradei said he would submit a report to the IAEA board of governors in March.

His trip comes after Colonel Qaddafi made a surprise announcement that his country was giving up the search for chemical, biological and nuclear arms.

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