Chemical watchdog denies report that Syria inspectors abducted

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United Nations staff gesture inside a building in the town of Douma, northeast of Damascus, where they were distributing aid parcels along with a Red Crescent team on May 24, 2014. (Photo: AFP - Abed Doumany)

Published Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Updated 2:00 pm: The world's chemical watchdog on 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," Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) spokesman Michael Luhan told AFP.

The foreign ministry had earlier reported that an 11-strong team from the international chemical weapons watchdog who were on a fact-finding mission in the central province of Hama were abducted.

The ministry had 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 an alleged attack.

Luhan said the team came under attack, but declined to give further details for security reasons.

The team had been investigating allegations that Syrian government forces unleashed a chlorine attack on a rebel-held village in Hama province last month 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.



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