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UNITED NATIONS, August 19 (Itar-Tass) - U.N. chemical weapons experts have started working in Syria, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday, August 19.
“The United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic began its work today,” he said.
The team will work in Syria for up to two weeks. This period can be extended by mutual consent, Ban said.
“The Mission will contemporaneously investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons reported by the Government of Syria at Khan al-Asal as well as two other allegations of the use of chemical weapons reported by Member States,” he said.
“In order to credibly establish the facts, the Mission must have full access to the sites of the alleged incidents. This includes access to the reported sites to undertake the necessary analyses and to collect samples. It also includes interviews and examination of witnesses, victims, attending medical personnel as well as the conduct of post-mortem examinations,” the secretary-general said.
On August 14, Syria agreed to receive U.N. inspectors for a probe into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the country. By agreement with the Syrian government they will investigate three such instances at the same time.
The spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General, Martin Nesirky, said in early August that apart from its leader, Swedish Professor Ake Sellstrom, the team of inspectors would include about 10 experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organisation.
He said that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “remains mindful of other reported incidents and the Mission will also continue to seek clarification from the Member States concerned.”
By agreement with the official Syrian authorities, the U.N. Mission will run its investigation in three places. They have not been named so far. The U.N. Secretariat has cited security reasons for not disclosing the details of the upcoming investigation of the purported use of chemical weapons in Syria for security reasons.
However one of the places to be visited by the U.N. experts is already known. It is Aleppo’s suburb of Khan Al-Asal. The other two have not been revealed.
Syria’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. Bashar al-Jaafari said in late July that the massacre aimed to “get rid of the witnesses who could have testified in the U.N. Secretariat and directly pointed at those who used chemical weapons.”
The U.N. Secretariat has already received 13 reports about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
On July 11, U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane and Swedish Professor Ake Sellstrom, the head of the team probing the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, accepted the Syrian government’s invitation to visit Damascus for talks on carrying out the investigation.
Sellstrom and Kane agreed to accept the Syrian government’s invitation to visit Damascus with a view to completing the consultations on the modalities of cooperation required for the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the investigation.
The focus of the mission, set up following a formal request from the Syrian government, will be an incident involving the alleged use of chemical weapons in Kfar Dael region in Khan Al-Asal area in Aleppo governorate, the U.N. said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had repeatedly urged Damascus to grant the team access to the country so that it can carry out an on-the-ground investigation into the allegations.
He welcomed Damascus’ invitation to visit Syria to investigate reports about alleged use of chemical weapons in the country.
The invitation to come to Syria was made by Syrian Permanent Representative to the U.N. Bashar Ja’afari and addressed to the U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane and Swedish Professor Ake Sellstrom, who is investigating alleged use of chemical weapons in the country.
“This invitation confirms the openness of the Syrian government and its commitment to cooperation with the United Nations Organisation in search for the truth hidden behind allegations about the use of chemical weapons,” he said.
“The Secretary-General welcomes the offer of the Government of Syria to continue discussions on the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic. He remains seriously concerned about all allegations on the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Nesirky said.
“Cooperation from Syria in this regard will be essential for the Mission to establish facts in a credible manner regarding any use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Nesirky said.
In late June, UK Permanent Representative to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant told ITAR-TASS that London, Washington and Paris had provided the U.N. with information about ten instances of alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian authorities against rebels.
The U.N. probe into an alleged chemical attack in Aleppo, started at Damascus’ initiative, came to a halt after Western countries had pushed the U.N. Secretariat towards looking into other such instances as well. The Syrian authorities had insisted that U.N. experts should first visit Aleppo and only then, if they prove their impartiality, could they investigate other instances. As a result of the explosion of a homemade rocket with sarin in the area controlled by governmental troops near Aleppo on March 19 of this year, 26 people died, including 16 Syrian army troops. The rest were civilians.