UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday appointed a Swedish professor who was a UN chemical weapons inspector in Iraq and now works at a research institute that deals with chemical incidents to head the UN fact-finding mission that will investigate allegations of the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky, who announced the appointment, called Ake Sellstrom “an accomplished scientist with a solid background in disarmament and international security.”
Syria asked the secretary-general last Thursday to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack by rebels on March 19 on Khan al-Assal village in northern Aleppo province. The rebels blamed regime forces for the attack.
Britain and France followed up Friday, asking the UN chief to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in two locations in Khan al-Assal and the village of Ataybah in the vicinity of Damascus, all on March 19, as well as in Homs on Dec. 23.
Nesirky said Sunday that Ban asked the three governments to provide additional information about the alleged attacks, saying it would be “crucial in defining the terms of reference for the mission and the scope of its work, with a view to verifying any alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.”
Nesirky said Tuesday that the secretary-general had received letters from Syria and Britain. He reiterated that the initial focus of the probe will be the Syrian allegation.
Syria is widely believed to have a large stockpile of chemical weapons. The government has not confirmed it, saying only that it would never use chemical weapons against its own people.
Nesirky said Sellstrom’s mission would determine whether chemical weapons were used — not who was to blame if they were.
The Swedish professor has long experience in the field.
Sellstrom taught at universities in the United States, served as director at the Swedish Defense and Security Research Institute, and was a chief inspector with the UN Special Commission known as UNSCOM, which searched for chemical and biological weapons in Iraq in the 1990s. He was senior adviser to fellow Swede Hans Blix, the chairman of UNSCOM’s successor, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission known as UNMOVIC.
Sellstrom is currently a project manager at the “European Center for Advanced Studies of Societal Security and Vulnerability,” based in Sweden. The Center focuses on “major incidents with Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Substances.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.