MUNSTER (AFP)-- Behind barbed wire fences at a top-security site in a German forest, workers in hazard suits will soon destroy remnants of Syrian chemical weapons of a type first tested here during World War I. Far from the battlefields of the three-year-old Syrian war, this remote high-tech facility, which usually destroys munitions from two world wars, will help eliminate mustard gas stocks from the arsenal of President Bashar al-Assad.
The facility known as GEKA, Germany's state-owned company for disposing of chemical warfare agents, boasts incinerators and a blast-proof explosives furnace that can safely detonate munitions with the destructive power of two tonnes of TNT.
"It's not an adventure playground," a GEKA spokesman quipped Wednesday to journalists visiting the site, where the faint smell of mustard gas-contaminated soil in bags wafts through storage halls. "You wouldn't hold a children's birthday party here."
About 140 staff work on the site adjacent to a military training ground, from where rifle shots echo through the cedar woods.
It was at this site in Munster, some 70 kilometres (50 miles) south of Hamburg, that Germany developed chemical weapons during World War I and first test-fired mustard gas, a devastating warfare agent.
"It attacks the skin and causes blisters and wounds, and it is strongly carcinogenic," said GEKA chief Andreas Krueger. "If you breathe in a lot, it attacks the lungs and mucous membranes including the eyes."
As GEKA helps eliminate Syria's chemical weapons, he said, "you do think about how, after 100 years since the start of World War I, they are still a problem".
"But you also remember that the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) and thus this entire effort won the Nobel Peace Prize last autumn. That's a certain incentive and also a source of pride if you're involved, even in a small way."