Chemical weapons organisation piles pressure on Syria
THE HAGUE - Syria came under pressure Monday to fill in gaps in its declaration to the world's chemical weapons watchdog amid reports of toxic arms use during its six-year civil war, triggering angry Syrian denials.
A fact-finding mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has issued three reports showing the use of chemicals weapons in the country in recent years, OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu said.
"It's very disturbing that yet again we are confronted with the use of chemical weapons," Uzumcu told the annual conference of countries belonging to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
It was "vital... that the long-held international norm against chemical weapons remains strong and the perpetrators are held accountable," Uzumcu said.
The 1993 arms treaty binds all member states to help rid the world of chemical weapons.
Syria under President Bashar al-Assad finally joined in 2013, admitting under US-Russian pressure to having a toxic arms stockpile, and thus staving off threatened US air strikes.
Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad hit back at what he said were "false accusations" of the regime's alleged involvement in attacks, saying the "politicised findings" of the OPCW fact-finding mission aimed to "smear the image of Syria" and destabilise his country.
- 'No impunity' -
He insisted that 100 percent of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile had been destroyed by the OPCW.
Countries had "sent their mercenaries from all over the world and encouraged them to use chemical weapons and toxic chemical against civilians and the Syrian army," he claimed.
He insisted the fact-finding team should carry out a new investigation.
The debate in The Hague came on the eve of fresh talks in Geneva with the United Nations aiming to revitalise flagging efforts to end the six-year conflict in which more than 340,000 people have been killed.
A joint UN-OPCW body, the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), in its latest report blamed the Syrian air force for a sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun in April that left scores dead.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Estonia's representative for non-proliferation, Jacek Bylica, said EU countries were "appalled by the recurring systematic use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Syrian government and by (the jihadist group) ISIL."
"There can be no impunity and those responsible for such acts must be held accountable," he said, calling on Damascus to work with the OPCW to complete an accurate picture of its chemical weapons stockpile.
The OPCW has declared that 100 percent of the Syrian regime's stocks have been destroyed, but has increasingly voiced concerns that not everything was declared.