UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. experts will travel to Syria imminently to investigate claims of chemical weapons use during that country’s civil war after the United Nations and the Syrian government agreed on details of the trip, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday.
The United Nations announced two weeks ago that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government had agreed to let the U.N. inspectors, led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, travel to three sites where chemical weapons were reported to have been used.
Ban’s press office said in a statement on Wednesday that the Syrian government had now “formally accepted the modalities essential for cooperation to ensure the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the mission.”
“The departure of the team is now imminent,” it said. “As agreed with the government of Syria, the team will remain in the country to conduct its activities, including on-site visits, for a period of up to 14 days, extendable upon mutual consent.”
One site to be visited by the U.N. experts is Khan al-Assal in Aleppo, where the Syrian government says rebels used chemical weapons in March. 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.
Ban appointed Sellstrom in March to lead a U.N. inquiry into the claims, but diplomatic wrangling and concerns over safety have prevented the team of experts from entering Syria.
The U.N. inquiry will try only to establish whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. Sellstrom’s team is made up of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organisation.
Editing by Will Dunham