U.N. finalizing Syria visit by chemical weapons experts

Reuters News

8/6/2013 1:39:06 PM - Reuters News

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday it is finalizing the legal and logistical details of a mission by U.N. inspectors to Syria to investigate claims of chemical weapons attacks.

"It is anticipated that these preparations will be completed within the next days, following which the date of the mission in Syria will be announced," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's press office said in a statement.

The United Nations said last week the Syrian government had agreed to let a team of experts travel to three sites where chemical weapons are reported to have been used. One, Khan al-Assal in Aleppo, is where the Syrian government says rebels used chemical weapons in March.

Rebels seized Khan al-Assal from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces last month. The Syrian National Coalition, the rebels' leadership group, wrote to Ban last week to reiterate that they were ready to cooperate with the chemical weapons inquiry and "welcome U.N. investigators into all territories under our control."

The other two locations to be visited have not yet been identified. The United Nations said it has received 13 reports of possible chemical weapons use - one from Syria's government and the rest mainly from Britain, France and the United States.

The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied it.

The U.N. inquiry, led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, will only try to establish whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. His team is made up of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization.

The U.N. statement said the team has "reassembled in The Hague, where they are now completing their preparations prior to their departure to Syria."

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Philip Barbara)