- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s troops in and around the rebel-held western Libyan city of Misrata have been issued gas masks, a sign that the regime may be preparing to use chemical weapons, rebels told The Washington Times on Wednesday.

The regime is thought to have about 9 tons of poisonous mustard gas at a secret desert location near Col. Gadhafi’s hometown, Sirte, multiple sources in Libya said.

Meanwhile, in New York, a special prosecutor for the International Criminal Court appeared before the U.N. Security Council to describe what he called “evidence” of “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilians by Col. Gadhafi’s forces.

Rebels received what they called reliable eyewitness accounts from Misrata residents who reported seeing gas masks distributed to Col. Gadhafi’s forces, said Mohamed, a spokesman in Misrata who asked that his last name be withheld.

“We have alerted the town to that fact and what Gadhafi could be up to,” Mohamed said. “We don’t have gas masks. We don’t know how to deal with this, but we will defend our city with our lives.”

Over the past week, pro-Gadhafi forces have retreated to the town of Zliten, situated to Misrata’s west. The troops, which suffered heavy losses under a barrage of NATO airstrikes and rebel fire, are now being commanded by one of Col. Gadhafi’s sons, Al-Mutasim Gadhafi.

“Al-Mutasim is just as brutal as his father and quite capable of using chemical weapons,” said Mohamed, the rebel spokesman.

Former Libyan officials, including Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, who served as the regime’s ambassador to the United Nations, have warned that Col. Gadhafi might use chemical weapons against the rebels.

In a meeting with a Libyan official in March, Ahmet Uzumci, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, expressed concern about the status of Libya’s stockpile of chemical weapons.The weapons are supposed to be destroyed in accordance with Libya’s obligations under the international Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Libyan representative, Ahmed Hassan Ahmed Walid, told Mr. Uzumci that “the situation regarding the chemical weapons to be destroyed remains unchanged and under control,” according to a statement from Mr. Uzumci’s organization.

Libya announced on Dec. 19, 2003, that it would dismantle its weapons-of-mass-destruction and ballistic-missile programs.

There is already evidence that the regime’s forces fired cluster bombs at a residential area in Misrata last month, according to rebels and human rights groups.

They said they also have collected evidence of crimes against humanity by the Gadhafi regime, such as the indiscriminate killings of civilians, including infants and the elderly, rapes of women and men, torture and kidnappings.

Gadhafi has used every conceivable and inconceivable weapon against the people of Misrata,” said Mohamed, the rebel spokesman.

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