| UNITED NATIONS, July 7
UNITED NATIONS, July 7 Two cylinders reportedly
seized by Syrian government troops in an area controlled by
armed opposition groups contained deadly sarin, U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a letter to the U.N.
Security Council published on Monday.
Ban said that on June 14, the Organisation for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) United Nations Joint
Mission overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical stockpile
analyzed the contents of the cylinders.
"The Joint Mission confirmed that these contained sarin,"
said Ban's letter. The letter said the cylinders were
"reportedly seized by the armed forces of the Syrian Arab
Republic in August 2013 in an area reportedly under the control
of armed opposition groups."
OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu said in a report attached to Ban's
letter that the Syrian government declared the cylinders "as
abandoned chemical weapons," but neither Uzumcu nor Ban stated
when they were handed over to the joint mission.
Uzumcu said the Syrian government told the OPCW "the items
did not belong to it." Ban said the joint mission was discussing
with the Syrian government how to destroy the cylinders and
their contents. It was unclear if they had yet been destroyed.
An OPCW report in October mentioned Syrian authorities had
found two cylinders, but it was not clear if the cylinders had
been handed over to the joint mission at that time.
Syria agreed last September to destroy its entire chemical
weapons programme under a deal negotiated with the United States
and Russia after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas
attack in August on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
The agreement averted U.S. military strikes in response to
the worst chemical weapons attack in decades, which Washington
and its European allies blamed on the government of President
Bashar al-Assad. Assad blamed the chemical attack on rebels
fighting to oust him.
Syria's civil war, now in its fourth year, has killed more
than 150,000 people. The United Nations says 10.8 million people
need help, while three million others have fled.
Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission, briefed the U.N.
Security Council behind closed doors on Monday. Syria handed
over the final consignment of its declared 1,300 tonnes of
chemicals on June 23. The toxins have been removed from Syria
for destruction at sea or in other countries.
But Ban's June 26 letter listed tasks still to be completed
for the full elimination of the chemical weapons programme,
including "the conclusion of ongoing consultations regarding any
possible remaining discrepancies in the original declaration."
Kaag's mission has asked Assad's government to clarify these
disparities in its initial declaration of toxic materials.
"It is now essential that every effort be made to achieve
the full elimination of the chemical weapons programme of the
Syrian Arab Republic at the very earliest opportunity, including
the destruction of remaining production facilities and the
resolution of any possible remaining technical discrepancies in
the original declaration," Ban wrote in the letter.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Grant McCool)