France urges immediate access for Syria chemical inspectors

Paris (AFP) –


France urged the Syrian regime and its ally Moscow on Friday to grant weapons inspectors immediate access to the site of an alleged chemical attack, accusing them of "obstruction" aimed at eroding the quality of the evidence.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), who arrived in Damascus last Saturday, needed "full, immediate and unhindered access" to the site in the town of Douma.

Their mission has been put on hold after a United Nations security assessment team were fired at, and officials at the OPCW have said that Russian and Syrian forces have likely removed key evidence.

"At this time the OPCW investigators still have no access to the chemical attack site in Douma. If Russia and Syria ultimately abide by their commitments, it will take (the investigators) at least two weeks," Le Drian said in a statement.

"The OPCW mission has as its goal establishing whether a chemical attack indeed took place and identifying the nature of the chemical agent used. This obstruction will obviously harm the quality of the investigation," he added.

"It seems likely that this attitude is intended to make proof and material evidence linked to the chemical attack disappear."

France joined the United States and Britain in launching air strikes a week ago against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, in retaliation against an alleged chemical attack in Douma which local medics said killed at least 40 people.

Le Drian said Russia was issuing "contradictory official statements on the chemical attack".

"One day the attack didn't take place, the next, it was carried out by armed groups," he said.

"A day later, it's a Western manipulation. There's no concern for either coherence or truth when it comes to sowing doubt and confusion."

He reiterated France's assertion that it has conclusive evidence of a chemical attack in Douma on April 7 as well as proof that it was carried out by the regime.