UN to probe alleged chemical weapons use

Mar 21, 2013, 11:08 AM EDT
REUTERS/George Ourfalian

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced Thursday that the United Nations will investigate the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, which would be "a crime against humanity."

The U.N. chief said the investigation would look into the Syria government's allegation of an alleged chemical weapons attack, which Damascus blamed on rebels.

The rebels blamed regime forces for Tuesday's attack on Khan al-Assal village in northern Aleppo province and the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, also demanded an international investigation.

The secretary-general said he was aware of "other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons" but did not make clear whether these would be part of the investigation.

France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said Wednesday that the Syrian National Coalition had alleged that there was a second chemical weapons attack on Tuesday in the Damascus area and it should be investigated as well.

Ban said he hopes the investigation "will contribute to ensuring the safety and security of chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria."

The secretary-general said the investigation will start "as soon as practically possible" but "will not happen overnight."

He said full cooperation from all parties will be essential and stressed that this includes "unfettered access."

Ban said his senior advisers are working to set up an investigation with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which oversees the chemical weapons convention and the World Health Organization. He said issues to be decided include the overall mandate, the composition, and operational conditions including safety and security.

"My announcement should serve as an unequivocal reminder that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity," the secretary-general said. "The international community needs full assurance that chemical weapons stockpiles are verifiably safeguarded."