Ban Ki-moon entrusted Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, with the task of setting up a fact-finding team in March to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, which has lasted for more than two years.

The UN decision was made at the request of the Syrian government. At least 25 people were killed and 130 wounded on March 19 when armed men fired a rocket believed to be loaded with chemical materials at Khan al-Asal in Aleppo province.

Any user of chemical weapons in Syria, if confirmed, "must be held accountable", media quoted Ban as saying on Monday. "Let me state again clearly that, if confirmed, the use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances must be held accountable and would constitute an international crime," the UN Chief said.

"Anyone responsible must be held accountable," he said.

Ban Ki-moon said that as agreed with the Syrian government, the group would conduct its activities in the country for up to 14 days and that could be extended upon mutual consent. He also urged full access for the expert team to the sites where the chemical weapon attacks allegedly occurred.

"As I have made clear many times, in order to credibly establish the facts, the (UN) mission must have full access to the sites of the alleged incidents," Ban said.

"This includes access to the reported sites to undertake the necessary analyses and to collect samples. It also includes interviews and examination of witnesses, victims, attending medical personnel as well as the conduct of post-mortem examinations," he added.

The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons but both have denied it.

(Agencies)

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