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No independent confirmation on Syria chemical arms use - watchdog

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

VIENNA (Reuters) - An international anti-chemical weapons body said it had no independent information about any use of such arms in Syria - as claimed by both sides in the conflict on Tuesday - but it was "closely monitoring" the situation.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said it would look at media reports about what had happened and "try to identify the symptoms which may be detected" in order to make an assessment.

The Syrian government and rebels accused each other of launching a deadly chemical attack near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday in what would, if confirmed, be the first use of such weapons in the two-year-old conflict.

Asked whether the OPCW had independent information verifying the use of chemical arms, Uzumcu said: "No, we don't. I don't think we know more than you do at the moment. Of course we have seen those reports and we are closely monitoring the situation."

Addressing a seminar held by the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, he earlier said reports that Syria had large stockpiles of such arms was a "major source of concern".

The OPCW, the Hague-based organisation founded to oversee a ban on the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, has 188 member nations, but has struggled to bring on board countries in the Middle East.

Because it has not signed the chemical weapons ban treaty and the United Nations has not intervened, Syria is under no international obligation to declare its chemical weapons, give them up or allow inspectors to monitor them.

Uzumcu made clear he would not want to send experts to a conflict zone.

(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130319/no-independent-confirmation-syria-chemical-arms-use-watchdog