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Syria: Ban begins consultations with UN Member States as chemical weapons team wraps up probe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas (file photo)
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Syria: Ban begins consultations with UN Member States as chemical weapons team wraps up probe

As the situation in Syria continues to rapidly evolve, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cut short an official visit in Europe to return to the world body’s New York Headquarters for a series of consultations with Member States today, while UN inspectors are wrapping up their initial investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in the war-torn country.

UN Spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters that Mr. Ban returned to New York last night “with precisely with the aim of reaching out to Member States and he started that…just a short while ago with the permanent members of the Security Council,” China, France, Russia the United Kingdom and the United States.

Meanwhile, the inspection team led by Swedish scientist Dr. Åke Sellström today visited a military government hospital in Damascus. Since arriving in Syria on 18 August, the team has visited the affected sites, as well as field hospitals, interviewed victims and doctors, and collected biomedical samples. The sites visited include the location of an alleged 21 August attack in the Ghouta area outside Damascus, where more than 300 civilians were reportedly killed.

“They are now packing up, they will be leaving Damascus and leaving Syria tomorrow,” Mr. Nesirky told reporters. The team is heading to The Hague, the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon (OPCW), which is assisting the probe, along with the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

The samples will be taken for analysis in designated laboratories in Europe. While the spokesperson did not specify which laboratories, he did note that none are located in countries represented by the permanent Security Council members.

“Dr. Sellstrom’s team is doing its utmost to expedite the process of analysis, but while keeping this in mind, they also have to keep in mind something else which is the need for rigorous attention to maintaining the integrity of the process, in other words, the scientific side of this process,” Mr. Nesirky stressed.

Dr. Sellström, as the team leader, will remain in Europe to oversee the analysis. He will also be in close contact with Mr. Ban to brief him on the progress.

“We have to be very clear here that before the mission can draw any conclusions about this incident, the evaluation of all available information including the laboratory analysis of all samples must be completed,” Mr. Nesirky stressed.

He added that the mission “will proceed to complete its fact-finding activities of all pending, credible allegations” and would return to investigate the three initial incidents.

Once analysis of the samples is completed, a report will be given to Mr. Ban who will share the results with all Member States, and the Security Council.

Responding to questions, Mr. Nesirky said that as of now, there was no timeline on when that final report would be completed and passed on to the Secretary-General. “The focus is on completing that analysis of the event from the 21st of August, and everybody concerned, including the Syrian authorities, agreed that his should be a priority,” he said reiterating that the team would return to Syria to complete its inspection of other sites.

Mr. Ban is due to meet tomorrow in New York with UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane, who had been in Damascus meeting with the Syrian Government to facilitate access for the team of inspectors. She is expected to brief the UN chief on the work of the mission and the way ahead.