UNITED NATIONS/THE HAGUE: The chief U.N. chemical weapons investigator in Syria says there should be a new probe to determine who was responsible for chemical weapons attacks that killed hundreds in the conflict-wracked country. Ake Sellstrom led a team that confirmed the use of chemical weapons in a major attack on Aug. 21 near Damascus, and their probable use in four other locations against civilians and soldiers. His team’s mandate was to determine whether chemical weapons were used – not to establish responsibility.
He said in an interview late Monday that if there was no accountability, “I will think it’s sad.”
He said using chemical weapons was “a hideous crime ... so it’s logical that this should be followed up and brought to court somehow, or brought to a tribunal, or brought to something.”
He said his team gathered “lots of facts,” but not enough to determine “the guilty party in this.”
To establish who used chemical weapons, Sellstrom said, a much broader investigation is needed.
He said last Friday that his team did not have the freedom of a police force in carrying out its investigation.
There are “a lot of other facts with the Syrian government, with the opposition, with several capitals,” he said, citing possible information on transport of chemical weapons and on militias. Key witnesses could also be found in Syria and at the sites of the attacks, he added.
“Someone must have given the order,” he said. “There must have been consequences somewhere – and that we could be able to pick up if people are willing to give that information to [a] member state or to such an inquiry.”
The confirmed use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug 21, which killed 1,400 according to the U.S. government, led to a U.S.-Russian agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.
The world’s chemical watchdog, meanwhile, says the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons will come in an unprecedented international operation: Russian armored trucks will help take the arms out of the country, tracked by U.S. and Chinese equipment.
The details are part of an ambitious plan unveiled by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons at a meeting of its Executive Council published Wednesday.
The U.S. is to destroy “hundreds of tons” of Category One chemicals – including mustard gas, sarin and VX nerve gas – aboard a specially equipped ship in international waters.
A Danish and a Norwegian frigate are waiting in Cyprus to escort Nordic cargo ships to collect the chemicals from Syria’s main port Latakia, but the hazardous materials are still at 12 sites.
The Nordic vessels will take the chemicals to an Italian port, where they will be loaded onto the U.S. ship for destruction, before returning to pick up the remaining chemicals to be destroyed at commercial facilities outside Syria.
The OPCW had set itself a Dec. 31 deadline for the most dangerous chemicals to be taken out of Syria but that date is likely to be pushed back.
These weapons must be destroyed by March 31.