IAEA will inspect Libya's yellowcake stockpiles

CARA ANNA Associated Press Published:

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- An inspection team from the U.N.'s nuclear agency will visit Libya to assess the thousands of barrels of yellowcake uranium that reportedly are being stored in a former military facility amid a "precarious" security situation in the country.

The International Atomic Energy Agency team will arrive in the North African country this month to "verify existing stockpiles and conditions of storage," the U.N. secretary-general's special representative to Libya told the Security Council on Monday.

Tarek Mitri said U.N. authorities have received information "indicating that 6,400 barrels are stored" under the control of an army battalion in a facility near Sabha, in the country's unstable desert south, where militants and traffickers have roamed since the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

"Yellowcake" is concentrated natural uranium and the foundation material in the process to make nuclear fuel.

Concerns about the material's storage have mounted as security in Libya has been weakened by the presence of armed militias since the fall of Gadhafi.

Public discontent with the militias in the capital, Tripoli, and elsewhere has "mounted significantly," Mitri said. Libya's out-of-control militias originated in the rebel forces that fought longtime dictator Gadhafi's forces in an eight-month civil war in 2011. The Libyan government has failed to incorporate them into the police force and army.

Last month, Washington said it is planning to train 5,000 to 8,000 Libyan soldiers to improve security.

However, "despite steps by the government to quickly deploy army units in Tripoli to prevent a security vacuum, the weak capacity of state military and policy institutions remains a serious problem," Mitri said.

The special representative noted the protests in Tripoli in mid-November against armed groups that left 46 people dead and more than 500 injured. "Bowing to public pressure, Misratan forces have since announced their withdrawal from the city," Mitri said. Misrata, Libya's third largest city, is just one city that has had a militia arm in the capital.

Benghazi, the birthplace of the Libyan revolution, also saw protests over "unprecedented levels of insecurity over the past few weeks," but serious problems in the city remain, he said. He noted the assassination attempt in November of the city's military commander and heavy fighting with the Islamic militia group Ansar al-Sharia.

Last week, an American teacher, Ronald Thomas Smith II, was shot to death while jogging in Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city where a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed last year.

Mitri also expressed concern about the 8,000 detainees held since the 2011 conflict, most of whom are in the hands of armed groups. The U.N. group overseeing the situation in Libya "has found hard evidence of torture, with 27 deaths in custody recorded since the end of the conflict, 11 of which took place this year," Mitri said.

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