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Old 09-09-2013, 03:49 PM
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Default UN's Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels 'used sarin'

BBC News - UN's Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels 'used sarin'

Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said.

Carla Del Ponte told Swiss TV that there were "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof".

Ms Del Ponte did not rule out the possibility that government forces might also have used chemical weapons.

Later, the commission stressed that it had "not reached conclusive findings" as to their use by any parties.

"As a result, the commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time," a statement added.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says the statement was terse and shows that the UN was taken by surprise at Ms Del Ponte's remarks.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was established in August 2011 to examine alleged violations of human rights in the Syrian uprising. It is due to issue its latest report next month.

In an interview with Swiss-Italian TV on Sunday, Ms Del Ponte, who serves as a commissioner on the panel, said: "Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals.

Continue reading the main story

image of Bridget Kendall
Bridget Kendall
Diplomatic correspondent, BBC News
This is not the first time rebel forces in Syria have come under suspicion for using chemical weapons.

The Syrian government has accused them, and some independent commentators have speculated some groups could conceivably have got hold of stocks when storming government facilities.

But allegations about sarin nerve agent use, possibly by Syrian rebels, coming from a senior UN official is a different matter. Carla del Ponte is a former war crimes prosecutor and serves on a UN commission looking into human rights abuses in Syria. So any comments from her carry weight.

However, this is hardly a formal UN position. She was speaking informally in TV and radio interviews, and freely admits that looking at the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not part of her remit.

All her team did was collect testimony, which they will now, no doubt, pass on to the separate UN team of weapons inspectors waiting in Cyprus for permission to enter Syria to make a full investigation.

In the meantime her comments are likely to make Western governments even more cautious in their preliminary assessments.

"According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated."

Sarin, a colourless, odourless liquid or gas which can cause respiratory arrest and death, is classed as a weapon of mass destruction and is banned under international law.

Ms Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney-general and prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), did not rule out the possibility that troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad might also have used chemical weapons, but said further investigation was needed.

"I was a little bit stupefied by the first indications we got... they were about the use of nerve gas by the opposition," she said.

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