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Experts to investigate substance turned up in UN weapons inspection office

A panel of three experts will find out how a mysterious substance initially suspected to be a chemical warfare agent turned up in the U.N. weapons inspection office in midtown Manhattan 11 years after it was removed from Iraq.

The material was found Aug. 24 at the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC, office with an inventory number that was later matched to records indicating it could be phosgene, a chemical substance used extensively in World War I as a choking agent.

The discovery prompted the evacuation of the office while hazardous materials experts removed the substance and sent it to a laboratory for testing. U.N. officials and police said Thursday it appeared to be a nontoxic commercial solvent.

"(The panel) will be tasked with ascertaining the circumstances under which the substances in question were brought to U.N. headquarters, the reasons why the items were discovered only recently and the safety procedures in place and the extent to which they were followed," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas told reporters Friday.

UNMOVIC's records show the material was from a 1996 excavation of the bombed-out research and development building at Iraq's main chemical weapons facility at Muthana, near Samarra. The entire facility was extensively bombed during the 1991 Gulf War, UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan said.

After it was removed from Iraq, it was inadvertently shipped to U.N. administrative offices instead of a chemical laboratory, police said.

The panel, expected to meet for the first time next week, is comprised of two chemical weapons experts - Stefan Mogl and Susan Brown - and the U.N. undersecretary-general for safety and security, David Veness.

Montas said they are expected to deliver a report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by the end of October.

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