The mandate and start date of Åke Sellström’s team is yet to be defined, but the UN stressed it was a scientific rather than criminal inquiry.
“He is an accomplished scientist with a solid background in disarmament and international security,” the UN said on Tuesday as it announced the appointment of Sellström, a senior researcher at the European Centre for Advanced Studies of Societal Security and Vulnerability,
A specialist in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive substances, Sellström was previously chief inspector with the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and also top adviser to the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) for Iraq.
He will head the new Syria team, whose remaining members are yet to be announced.
UN head Ban Ki-moon has told the UN Security Council permanent members, which includes main Syrian government ally Russia, that they will not be allowed to take part, according to diplomatic sources.
Russia has made clear its irritation at being excluded and had expressed its “willingness” to take part, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.
“We were told that the secretariat preferred to have a team which would exclude [security council permanent] members,” he added.
“We do not fully share this kind of attitude but the main thing is for it to be as objective a team as possible,” Churkin said.
“So we will see what kind of group it will be and what its work results in.”
The Syrian government asked for an investigation last week after claiming that the opposition used chemical weapons in Aleppo on March 19th, 2013. The UK and France, meanwhile, have demanded that the inquiry also look into claims from the rebels that the government used chemical arms in Aleppo and near Damascus.
Russia has strongly backed the Syrian demand to limit the investigation.The UN has only said that the “initial focus” of the inquiry will be the Syrian government claim.
“It is not a criminal investigation, it is a technical mission,” said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky. The investigators will try to confirm “whether chemical weapons were used and not by whom”.
Upon news of his appointment, Sellström told Sveriges Television (SVT) that he will be conducting interviews and tests to find out whether chemical weapons were used in Syria.
He said that in a chaotic war zone, people on the ground ran the risk of being exposed to different gases without being able to find out which one.
“It may be a bomb that contains something else, but people believe it was a chemical weapon,” he said.