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Swiss prepare ground for weapons inspectors

Uscom weapon inspectors in Iraq (UNSCOM)

Three Swiss infrastructure specialists are heading for Iraq on Wednesday to assist the United Nations weapons inspection team.

They will prepare the ground for weapons inspectors to follow at a later date.

The Swiss specialists, who are members of the army's fortification guards, will be responsible for ensuring that the Baghdad headquarters of the weapons inspectors is habitable.

The group is being sent as an advance party to establish what needs to be done to make the command centre useable.

The specialists will then be joined by at least ten more Swiss colleagues - including plumbers, electricians, and air conditioning and structural engineers - who will carry out construction and other alterations before the arrival of the weapons inspectors.

Switzerland had offered, in mid-September, to provide weapons inspectors to join the new UN mission, but was asked instead for logistical support.

Scrutiny

Swiss experts had participated in UN weapons inspections before Iraq closed its doors to international scrutiny in 1998.

Many of them were from the Spiez Laboratory, Switzerland's main weapons institute, which works towards reducing the threat from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

The head of its arms control division, Heinrich Staub, went to Iraq several times as part of UN inspection teams.

"In the actual inspections in which I participated, we didn't encounter problems and people were very open, even friendly," Staub told swissinfo.

This time round, Iraq has until December 8 to make a complete declaration of all its weapons to the UN.

"The biggest hurdle for the inspection team... is the verification of the declaration... afterwards... I do not expect that they will encounter problems because most of the sites have been investigated before," Staub says.

"Immense pressure"

He also said the team would be "under immense pressure because everybody knows if they detect anything wrong, or missing, in this declaration, there will be consequences".

Iraq accepted on Wednesday a new UN resolution giving Baghdad one last chance to disarm and paving the way for weapons inspectors to return after a four-year absence.

In a newspaper interview last week, Hans Blix said some 700 sites had been identified in Iraq and that inspectors would try to keep the location of the sites secret and provide no advance notice to Baghdad.

swissinfo

In BRIEF

Swiss infrastructure specialists are preparing the ground for UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad.

The Swiss are not sending any weapons inspectors to Iraq.

Swiss experts had been part of previous UN inspections of Iraqi weapons prior to 1998.

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