UN chemical weapons mission to Syria delayed

UN says investigators ready to depart, but agreement with government has yet to be reached.

    The UN investigation team led by Ake Sellstrom has completed its logistical arrangements for the visit [Reuters]
    The UN investigation team led by Ake Sellstrom has completed its logistical arrangements for the visit [Reuters]

    The departure of UN chemical weapons experts to Syria has been delayed because an agreement has not been reached with the Syrian government on arrangements for the investigation of three incidents of alleged chemical weapons use, the United Nations has said.

    UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said on Tuesday that the investigation team led by Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom completed its logistical arrangements for the visit over the weekend.

    Fighting rages on across Syria

    Del Buey said UN disarmament chief Angela Kane was continuing consultations with the Syrian government "with a view to reaching agreement as soon as possible on the modalities essential for cooperation to ensure the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the mission".

    The Syrian regime and rebels fighting to overthrow it have blamed each other for using chemical weapons, banned under international law.

    The UN delegation's mandate is to report on whether chemical weapons were used, and if so which ones, but not to determine the responsibility for an attack.

    UN spokesman Martin Nesirky had said on August 6 that preparations were expected to be completed "within the next days, following which the date of the mission in Syria will be announced".

    The UN did not say what specific issues were holding up the team's departure.

    Blame game

    Del Buey said "once the government of Syria confirms its acceptance of the modalities, the mission will depart without delay".

    The UN gave approval for the investigation on July 31 following an "understanding" reached during meetings in Damascus between the Syrian government and the UN, represented by Kane and Sellstrom.

    The team is expected to visit Khan al-Assal, a village on the southwestern outskirts of the embattled city of Aleppo which was captured by the rebels in late July. The government and rebels blame each other for a purported chemical attack on the village on March 19 that killed at least 30 people.

    The experts are expected to investigate two other incidents whose locations are being kept secret for safety and security reasons.

    UN Mideast envoy Robert Serry told the Security Council last month that the UN has received 13 reports of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria.

    The investigation team includes about 10 experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organisation.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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