London/Moscow/Ivrea, Oct 15 — Chemical arms inspectors in Syria have sought short-term cease-fires in rebel-held areas so that they can complete their work even as Russia said Tuesday that some of the opposition forces in the strife-torn country are refusing to participate in peace-talks that are being convened.
Fighting is preventing access to chemical sites in some rebel-held areas in Syria and short-term cease-fires can help UN-appointed chemical arms inspectors to work, according to Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
“Chemical experts had already reached five out of at least 20 facilities capable of producing chemical weapons,” Uzumcu told the BBC in an interview Monday.
However, routes to some of the sites went through opposition-held territory and this prevented access, he said.
He added that one abandoned site is located in a rebel-held area, and that his team is hoping to access it. Uzumcu called for local, short-term ceasefires to allow experts to work.
Syrian officials have been cooperating and facilitating the experts’ work, he added.
According to a UN resolution, Syria’s chemical weapons production equipment must be destroyed by Nov 1 and stockpiles must be disposed of by mid-2014.
The OPCW was established in 1997 to monitor and destroy chemical weapons across the world.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told reporters Tuesday that Preparations for an international peace conference on Syria were under way, but some opposition groups in Syria were still refusing to participate.
He recalled that the UN Security Council’s resolution stated that the conference could be convened in mid-November, Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported.
“All of us are now working in this direction,” Gatilov said.
“The UN Secretary-General’s envoy will soon start a tour of countries in the region to meet representatives of the opposition. He will have talks in Damascus, too,” he said, adding that the talks would focus on an international peace conference.
The diplomat drew attention to the fact that the Syrian authorities expressed their readiness to take part in the conference long ago.
“Regrettably, some opposition groups announced their refusal to participate in the conference,” he said.
In another development, 50 Syrian migrants were detained early Tuesday aboard a bus near the northern Italian city of Turin, and were believed to have been heading for the French or Swiss border.
Police detained the migrants in the early hours of Tuesday outside Ivrea, about 40 km north of Turin.
All the Syrians have claimed political asylum and were in the process of being identified by police.
Migrants are entitled to request asylum in the country in which they are identified, although many prefer to reach northern Europe.