Sudan faces poison weapons inquiry over Chemical weapons inquiry in Sudan UN to probe chemical weapons use in Sudan

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THE UNITED NATIONS is sending a team of investigators to southern Sudan after local people and a British aid worker were affected by symptoms associated with chemical weapons poisoning.

Francis Mwanza, the UN World Food Programme information officer in Rome, said that on 27 July the Briton, whom he refused to name, a Ugandan and a Sudanese escort were returning from the town of Bahr el Ghazal when they were stopped for 45 minutes at a police checkpoint in the town of Lainya. The WFP workers felt a burning sensation and began vomiting. The town, in the rebel-held area of Eastern Equatoria province, had apparently been bombed four days earlier by the Sudanese air force.

A spokesman for the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), Samson Kwanje, said last week a government aircraft dropped 16 bombs in Lainya and six in nearby Kaaya on 23 July, the day unsuccessful peace talks ended in Kenya.

"It is reported that a day after the bombing of these towns, children and men and women started to vomit blood," Mr Kwanje said. Since the bombing "almost all pregnant women have aborted or are gravely ill," he said, and goats, sheep, cats, dogs and birds were dying.

Sudan has rejected the rebel claims. The pro-government Akhbar Al-Youm newspaper quoted an army spokesman, General Mohamed Osman, as saying such reports constituted a smear campaign against the Khartoum government.

Tarik Bakhi, a diplomat at Sudan's mission to the UN, said his country had recently signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and had nothing to hide. "We categorically deny these allegations. I don't think Sudan will mind an investigation."

Lindsey Davies, a spokeswoman for the WFP in Nairobi, said this was the UN's intention. "We are taking this very seriously," she said, describing the symptoms the team reported. "There was a very bad smell in the area coming from a bomb crater 10 metres away." According to Mr Mwanza, the Briton was yesterday in hospital in Nairobi having tests.

The SPLA is fighting the Islamic-led government for control of the Christian south.

Washington has accused Sudan in the past of developing chemical weapons. Last August President Clinton ordered cruise missiles to be launched at a pharmaceutical factory near Khartoum. So far the US has failed to provide compelling evidence that the factory produced chemical weapons.

Experts said some symptoms described were similar to those of mustard gas, but added that few chemical weapons would maintain their potency for long in Sudan's heat.