DAMASCUS: The world's chemical watchdog Tuesday denied a report by the Syrian government that investigators and their drivers on a fact-finding mission had been kidnapped, saying the group was "safe" and returning to base after an attack.
"All team members are safe and well and heading back to their operating base," Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) spokesman Michael Luhan told AFP.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that six international chemical weapons watchdog investigators had been kidnapped with their Syrian drivers on a fact-finding mission in the central province of Hama.
"Terrorist groups have kidnapped five Syrian drivers and six members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) team investigating the use of chlorine gas," the ministry said.
The team have been investigating allegations that Syrian government forces unleashed the industrial chemical on a rebel-held village in Hama province last month.
The ministry said the team went missing as they were traveling in two vehicles from government-held Teebet al-Imam to rebel-held Kafr Zita, the scene of the alleged attack.
The watchdog said late last month that it would deploy a fact-finding mission to probe the allegation that Damascus had used chlorine as a weapon in breach of its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The Syrian government signed the convention last year as part of a Russian- and US-brokered deal under which it pledged to destroy all of its chemical arsenal.
Syria was not required to declare its stockpile of chlorine -- a toxic but weak agent -- as it is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes.
But its use for military purposes would still be a breach of Damascus's undertakings under the convention.