The UN secretary-general has recommended that about 100 people from the United Nations and the world’s chemical weapons watchdog be part of a joint mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons.
Ban Ki-moon proposed in a letter to the UN Security Council that a joint mission be established with the UN providing logistics, communications and co-ordination with the Syrian government and rebel groups, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons conducting technical consultations, verification and inspections.
Given the “dangerous and volatile” environment in Syria, Mr Ban said, “the joint mission will establish a ’light footprint’ in Syria”, only deploying those necessary.
The 11-page letter was a response to the resolution adopted unanimously by the Security Council on September 27 ordering Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile to be secured and destroyed and asking the UN chief to submit recommendations within 10 days on the UN role in eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons programme.
Four days after its passage, Mr Ban said, a joint advance team of 19 personnel from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, and 16 UN personnel arrived in Damascus to initiate their activities.
Syrian personnel yesterday began to destroy the country’s chemical weapons, under the supervision of OPCW experts supported by the UN, using “cutting torches and angle grinders to destroy or disable a range of materials, including missile warheads, aerial bombs and mixing and filling equipment”, Mr Ban said.
“I welcome this historic step, and urge all parties to do their part to ensure that this encouraging progress is maintained and indeed accelerated,” he said.
The secretary-general said the advance team’s rapid deployment was possible because of the close collaboration of the two organisations “as well as the co-operation of the Syrian government”.
He stressed the dangerous environment in which the advance team will operate, especially in Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and other urban areas.
“Heavy artillery, air strikes, mortar barrages, and the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas are commonplace, and battle lines shift quickly,” Mr Ban said.
“Two mortars impacted in close proximity of the hotel in Damascus where the advance team will initially base its operations just hours before it arrived, while vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices have detonated in close proximity.”
Mr Ban said “the joint mission will build upon the advance team deployment and expand to a staff of approximately 100 personnel from both the OPCW and the United Nations”.
But he stressed that number of UN and OPCW personnel in the mission, or supporting it, “will be constantly shifting, depending on operational requirements”.
Since Syria’s chemical weapons material and equipment are expected to be eliminated by the first half of 2014, Mr Ban said the planned deployments of the joint mission will be for less than a year.
The Security Council, which must authorise the proposed joint mission, is scheduled to discuss the report on Thursday.