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Ban makes new plea to Syria to let in chemical arms inquiry

Published: Updated:

U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon made a new plea to Syria on Monday to stop blocking an international inquiry into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the country’s conflict.

Ban met the head of the investigation team, Ake Sellstrom, as international suspicions about the use of the weapons grow and on the day designated to remember the victims of chemical weapons attacks.

Ban told reporters he “takes seriously” U.S. reports about the weapons and said “I again urge the Syrian authorities to allow the investigation to proceed without delay and without any conditions.”

Sellstrom and an advanced team now in Cyprus can deploy to Syria “within 24 to 48 hours,” the U.N. secretary general said.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government asked for a U.N. inquiry but has refused to let investigators into the country, demanding that they be limited to its claims that opposition rebels used chemical weapons near Aleppo on March 19.

Britain and France have asked that the inquiry also look at opposition claims that chemical arms also had been used in Homs and near Damascus.

Ban wrote a new letter to President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday seeking access as the United States revealed its suspicions that chemical arms have been used. Diplomats said the Syrian government is barely communicating with U.N. and other international bodies.

The U.N. chief said that while waiting the experts “have been doing what they have to do and what they can to gather and analyze available information.” Sellstrom visited London last week.

“This is a crucial moment in our efforts to get the team on the ground to carry out its important task,” Ban said.

“I take seriously the recent intelligence report of the United States about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. On-site activities are essential if the United Nations is to be able to establish the facts and clear up all the doubts surrounding this issue.

“A credible and comprehensive inquiry requires full access to the sites where chemical weapons are alleged to have been used,” he added.

“I encourage all involved to uphold their responsibilities in enabling us to properly police these heinous weapons of massive destruction.”