Chemical watchdog says will deploy second team to Syria

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - The world's chemical weapons watchdog said Tuesday, October 8, it will send a second team of inspectors to bolster its ambitious program to destroy Syria's arsenal.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) "will deploy a second team of inspectors for the mission in Syria," it said in a statement.

"That will augment the advance team of OPCW experts, who have been in Syria since October 1 conducting verification and destruction activities," it said, without providing further details on the new inspectors.

The OPCW, which has until mid-2014 to complete the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal under the terms of a Russia-US-brokered agreement, is holding a regular meeting of its Executive Council this week.

The organization's Director General Ahmet Uzumcu briefed diplomats at the meeting on progress made so far in Syria. He is due to hold a press conference near OPCW headquarters in The Hague on Wednesday.

He confirmed that Syria was cooperating with the joint OPCW-UN disarmament mission, and had on Sunday begun destroying some chemical weapons.

A range of other items was also being destroyed "towards the goal of rendering unusable all production facilities and mixing and filling equipment by November 1 of this year," the statement said.

"These developments present a constructive beginning for what will nonetheless be a long and difficult process," Uzumcu said.

A deal providing for the UN to facilitate security and field logistics for the mission will be inked shortly, he added.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that around 100 international experts would have to spend up to a year in war-torn Syria to destroy its chemical weapons in an unprecedented mission.

A joint UN-OPCW mission would supervise the destruction of President Bashar al-Assad's chemical arms in line with a Security Council resolution passed on September 27, Ban said in a report to the UN Security Council.

After months of diplomatic sparring, Russia and the United States agreed to work together to disarm Syria after a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21 in which hundreds died.

A team of around 20 experts is already in Syria to start the destruction of weapons production facilities.

Ban recommended that the mission have its headquarters in Damascus and a support base in nearby Cyprus.

Western countries blame Assad's forces for the August 21 chemical attack near Damascus which the United States says left more than 1,400 dead. The government and Russia accuse opposition rebels of having carried out the attack.

Russia has praised Damascus for "very actively" cooperating with the chemical weapons inspectors, and the US has welcomed progress made so far. -