Syria refuses access to chemical weapons investigators - watchdog

AMSTERDAM, June 12 (Reuters) - Syrian officials have refused access to a newly-created chemical weapons investigation team formed to identify culprits behind attacks with banned munitions, the organisation’s top official said in remarks published on Wednesday.

Member countries of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) voted last year to create the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), a decision that was opposed by Damascus and its ally Russia.

“Syria refuses to recognise the decision and to deal with any of its subsequent implications and effects,” OPCW head Fernando Arias told member states.

He said Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faysal Mekdad, had informed the OPCW in writing of the decision not to issue travel visas to members of the investigation team.

“Additionally, I received two letters dated 9 May and 14 May from the vice-minister, informing of Syria’s objection to grant the newly appointed members of the IIT access to any confidential information concerning the Syrian chemical dossier” Arias said.

With 193 member states, the OPCW, based in The Hague in the Netherlands, is the U.N.-supported global body established to rid the world of chemcial weapons.

Syria joined the OPCW in 2013, agreeing to give weapons inspectors access, in a move that averted air strikes threatened by then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

A joint United Nations-OPCW investigation team (JIM) concluded that Syrian forces used banned nerve agent sarin and chlorine barrel bombs, while militants with Islamic State had used mustard gas.

The new investigation team was formed after Russia vetoed a resolution to extend the mandate of the JIM in November 2017. (Reporting by Anthony Deutsch Editing by Gareth Jones)