Swedish scientist to head U.N. Syria chemical weapons probe

Damascus has not confirmed that it has chemical weapons, but says if it had them it would not use them on its own people. (AFP)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed a Swedish professor who was a U.N. chemical weapons inspector in Iraq and now works at a research institute that deals with chemical incidents to head the U.N. fact-finding mission that will investigate allegations of the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky called Ake Sellstrom “an accomplished scientist with a solid background in disarmament and international security.”

Sellstrom was a chief inspector for UNSCOM, the U.N. inspection team that investigated and dismantled Iraq's biological and chemical weapons programs in the 1990s.

Sellstrom also worked with UNMOVIC, the U.N. group that returned to Iraq in 2002 and found no solid evidence Baghdad had revived its banned arms programs before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Nesirky said the investigation would be technical and not a criminal investigation, looking at whether chemical weapons were used and not at who may have used them.

Syria asked the secretary-general to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19, and Britain and France have asked for an investigation of two other alleged attacks.

Ban asked the three governments on Sunday to provide additional information about the alleged attacks and Nesirky said Tuesday that the secretary-general had received a letter from Britain.

Russia said on Monday that Western nations had muscled the U.N. chief into broadening an investigation into the alleged use of chemical arms in Syria and accused them of trying to use the probe to push President Bashar al-Assad from power.

The United Nations said last week it would investigate Syrian allegations that rebels used chemical arms in an attack near the northern city of Aleppo, but Western countries sought a probe of all claims about the use of such banned arms.

The Syrian request for an investigation relates to an alleged chemical attack near Aleppo. France and Britain wrote to Ban on Thursday to draw his attention to a second alleged attack near Damascus, as well as one in Homs in late December. The rebels blame Syria’s government for all three incidents.

Israeli Major General Yair Golan, who commands forces along the Syrian and Lebanese fronts, has said Syria’s chemical arsenal is still under the control of the Damascus government.

“[Syria’s] chemical weapons today are 100 percent under control. We can say this is good news for now, if you can call it good news,” the head of Israel’s northern command told the Israel Hayom newspaper in an interview published on Monday.

U.S. and European officials say there is no evidence of a chemical weapons attack. If one is confirmed, it would be the first use of such weapons in the two-year-old Syrian conflict, which the United Nations says has cost 70,000 lives.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 27 March 2013 KSA 18:37 - GMT 15:37
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