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UN chemical weapons inspectors to visit Syria

A United Nations team of experts will soon depart for Syria to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons. The team is expected to visit three sites over two weeks.

"The Government of Syria has formally accepted the modalities essential for cooperation to ensure the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the mission," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement released Wednesday.

"The departure of the team is now imminent," the statement added.

The team will be led by Swedish arms expert Ake Sellstroem and include 10 other experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization.

"Our goal remains a fully independent and impartial inquiry," the UN statement said.

"The Secretary-General believes that an effective mechanism to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons can serve as an important deterrent against their employment," it said.

According to the agreement with Syria, the team will remain in Syria for two weeks to determine if chemical weapons were used, and if so which kind. However, their objective is not to determine who used the chemical weapons.

The mission has been delayed for months over disagreements with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime over the scope of the investigation.

Syria had called for a UN probe in March but insisted that it focus only on the Khan al-Assal site, near the embattled city of Aleppo. The government says rebels used chemical weapons in an attack and killed 30 people there on March 19. However, the opposition claims it was government forces that carried out the attack.

However, the UN pressed for broader access and investigation of other sites as well, which was met with opposition from Damascus.

Britain, France and the United States have all followed with allegations of chemical weapons use across Syria. On June 13, the US said it had conclusive evidence that Assad's regime had used chemical weapons against opposition forces, which prompted a decision to send arms and ammunition to the opposition.

hc/kms (AFP, AP)