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UN Inspectors Expand Iraq Weapons Probe - 2003-01-14

United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq visited several locations on Tuesday, their 46th day of searching for weapons of mass destruction. And the inspection process is widening to sites that have not been visited before.

Armed with new American and British intelligence information, U.N. weapons inspectors investigated, among other things, an Iraqi missile engine testing facility and a military depot in Baghdad.

The inspection process is widening, according to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, as a result of new intelligence information provided by the United States and Britain. Mr. Blix was quoted in The Washington Post as saying inspectors have visited sites that have not been visited before and there will be more such inspections. He said 60 additional inspectors have begun training and would soon bring the total number of inspectors in Iraq to about 200.

Besides the main inspection office in Baghdad, a new office has been opened in northern Iraq and another one will soon be opened in southern Iraq. At least eight helicopters have been added to the arsenal of inspection tools and weapons inspectors are also planning to use high-altitude unmanned aircraft to obtain greater surveillance of Iraq.

This week inspectors plan to interview Iraqi scientists and will request that the interviews be conducted in private. During the few interviews that have been conducted so far, the scientists asked that Iraqi monitors be present during the questioning.

Inspectors have the authority to take Iraqis out of the country for interviews but according to Mr. Blix inspectors cannot force anyone to leave the country.

The chief U.N. weapons inspector says he expects the inspection process to last until March when he presents the first major report to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq's weapons programs. Inspectors are due to give a progress report to the Security Council next Monday.

Since resuming inspections November 27, weapons inspectors say they have found no evidence that suggests Iraq is actively engaged in the development and production of banned nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.