The United Nations would destroy Syria’s chemical-weapons arsenal through a first-ever joint mission involving a Hague-based group and financed by trust funds, under a proposal from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Finding, dismantling and eliminating the munitions amid the civil war in Syria is an unprecedented operation for the world body, Ban said in a letter yesterday to the Security Council outlining the special mission.
Ban’s plan calls for the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in the Hague, to set up the mission, led by a civilian coordinator, to ensure that Syria’s stockpile is removed by next year. It would be the first joint effort between the UN and the group, Ban said in the letter, which was obtained by Bloomberg News.
“The environment in which the OPCW-UN joint advance team will operate is dangerous and volatile, particularly in urban areas such as Damascus, Homs and Aleppo,” Ban wrote.
Teams from both organizations are already in Syria to oversee compliance with last month’s Security Council resolution to rid the country of its chemical weapons by next year. On Oct. 6, the teams did their first verification of the destruction of the munitions by Syrian personnel.
The Security Council’s Sept. 27 resolution was prompted by a gas attack near Damascus that the U.S. said killed more than 1,400 people, including children. The accord lacked immediate consequences if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad failed to comply and it didn’t assign blame for the Aug. 21 attack, which U.S., U.K. and French officials attribute to Assad’s regime.
The special mission would consist of about 100 people from the Hague group, for technical matters, and the UN, for logistics, security and “strategic coordination” in communicating with Assad’s government, Ban proposed. The OPCW was set up to implement a global ban on chemical arms.
“Given the operating environment, the Joint Mission will establish a ‘light footprint,’” Ban said. Deployments will be limited to only what is necessary, and an operational base will be set up in Damascus and a support facility in Cyprus, for equipment storage and personnel training, he said.
Ban allocated $2 million to fund immediate and emergency costs for the 35-member advance team that arrived in Damascus on Oct. 1 to start the process, according to the letter. In it, he cited the challenges that the special mission’s personnel would face while operating in the middle of a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions more.
“Heavy artillery, air strikes, mortar barrages, and the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas are commonplace and battle lines shift quickly,” 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.”
The success of the mission will hinge on the Syrian authorities’ “sustained commitment” and the “critical” support and participation of the Security Council and UN member states, according to the letter. So far, Ban said, the Syrian government has “fully cooperated.”
The UN chief will brief the Security Council on Oct. 10 about his recommendations for the mission, and the suggestions are expected to be approved by the 15-member governing panel, according to UN diplomat Javid Nasirli of Azerbaijan, which holds the council’s monthly rotating presidency.