*West concerned about Libyan weapon stockpiles
*Gaddafi has chemical agents and conventional weapons
By Tabassum Zakaria and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has
pressed for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to step down, but a
leadership vacuum raises concerns about the security of Libya's
weapons stockpiles and the danger of them falling into the
hands of adversaries, officials said Monday.
Libyan rebels have taken over most of Tripoli, Gaddafi's
location is unknown, and great uncertainty exists about who
will eventually end up in charge of the country.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers warned of
security concerns while Gaddafi's rule crumbles.
"Even after Gaddafi is out of power we will have to step up
and lead to ensure U.S. national security interests are
safeguarded," Rogers, a Republican, said in a statement. "In
particular, we must ensure that Gaddafi's stockpiles of
advanced weapons, chemical weapons and explosives don't fall
into the wrong hands."
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in
February said Libya kept 9.5 tons of mustard gas in a secret
desert location guarded by the army, but had destroyed aerial
bombs designed to deliver chemicals in 2004 as part of a
short-lived rapprochement with the West.
Gaddafi's stockpiles of chemical agents are still being
closely guarded by forces loyal to the Libyan leader, a U.S.
official told Reuters Monday.
The United States, NATO and the United Nations have been
keeping a close eye on the stockpiles during the crisis,
"The stockpiles at this point appear to be well-guarded,"
the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"It's worth keeping in mind that Gaddafi did in fact destroy
many of his most dangerous weapons, and that much of what
remains is outdated or difficult to make operational."
A U.N. official told Reuters that due to their age, Libya's
chemical stockpiles might be more of an environmental hazard
than a military or terrorist threat.
They consist of "very old chemical components which are not
very useful as weapons," the official said. Mustard gas decays
with age and Gaddafi's stockpiles are old enough that they are
not even necessarily that hazardous, the U.N. official said.
U.S. and European officials also are concerned about
keeping secure Libya's stockpiles of conventional weapons --
surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank rockets, armored vehicles,
rocket-propelled grenades and explosives.
Libyan forces fired three Scud-type missiles on Monday from
the area of Sirte, Gaddafi's home town. That followed the
launch of another Scud missile last week, the first time his
forces fired the weapon since the conflict began.
Some counter-terrorism officials were much more concerned
about Gaddafi's arsenals of conventional weapons being looted
than they were about his stockpile of chemical agents, a
European security official said.
The fear is that such weapons could either make their way
to militant groups or insurgents seeking to destabilize other
African governments. But so far there was little evidence of
significant weapons leaks or militant involvement in Libyan
forces opposed to Gaddafi, a U.S. official said.
"As we move forward, the international community must
ensure a peaceful transition where the will of the Libyan
people is heard," Representative C.A. "Dutch"
"We must also ensure radical extremist groups do not take
control of the country. Libya has a large stockpile of chemical
weapons and explosives that must not fall into the wrong
hands," said Ruppersberger, the senior Democrat on the House
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Jackie
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.