Syria: chemical weapons mission seeks short ceasefire
OPCW team struggling to access some chemical weapons sites amid mortar shells and gunfire
THE Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons - which last week won the Nobel Peace Prize - has called for a short-term ceasefire in parts of Syria to allow it to destroy the country's stockpile of chemical arms.
Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the OPCW, has told the BBC's Today programme that Syrian officials have been co-operating with the organisation, taking the team wherever they want to go. So far, they have reached five out of at least 20 facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.
But Uzumcu said fighting in some rebel-held areas was preventing access to other sites. Mortar shells had fallen "next to the hotel where our team is staying and there are exchanges of fire not far from where they go", he said.
Uzumcu appealed to all sides in Syria "to support this mission, to be co-operative and not render this mission more difficult".
This is the first time the OPCW has worked in a war zone since it was set up in 1997. It was established to enforce the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria officially joins today.
Together with the UN, it has had a team of 60 experts and support staff based in Damascus since 1 October.
Uzumcu said the Nobel Peace Prize came as "a very big boost of morale" to the team and hoped that the award would help their work.
Syria is thought to have more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents and precursor chemicals, including blister agent, sulphur mustard, and sarin nerve agent. It is also thought to have produced the potent nerve agent, VX, says the BBC.
A disarmament deal was struck after the deadly poison-gas attack in Damascus on 21 August in which hundreds were killed. Under the UN resolution, the country's chemical weapons production equipment must be destroyed by 1 November and its stockpiles destroyed by mid-2014. ·