BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The U.S. military said yesterday that it had captured Gen. Hussam Mohammad Amin, Saddam Hussein's liaison with United Nations inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction inside Iraq.

The general, No. 49 on the list of the 55 most-wanted members of Hussein's regime, was caught west of Baghdad on a road heading toward Jordan and Syria, officials said. The U.S. Central Command in Qatar reported that Amin was "now under coalition control."

Amin had led Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate, which tracked the country's armaments, and he met frequently with U.N. inspectors.

He appeared frequently on television, giving news conferences when inspectors were in town. He took every occasion to deny his country had any banned weapons.

He reportedly did so again yesterday as he was being taken into custody.

Two weeks ago, Hussein's top scientific adviser, Gen. Amir Saadi, surrendered to authorities. He also insisted that his country has no weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. Special Forces operating near the northern Iraq town of Baiji found more than a dozen 55-gallon drums full of chemicals and two mobile chemical labs in a field surrounded by surface-to-air missiles late last week.

The 10th Cavalry Regiment was called in, and preliminary tests showed the presence of cyclosarin, a nerve agent, as well as a blister agent that may be mustard gas, according to military officials.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, a spokesman with the U.S. military's Central Command in Qatar, urged caution, saying only field tests had been done, and laboratory tests would be needed to make a final determination.

"A field test can only say what something might be; only a lab test can confirm it," he said.

Some past chemical finds have turned out to be pesticides. But coalition forces are hoping Amin will help lead them to the elusive weapons that were one of the major stated reasons for attacking Iraq.

Lt. Col. Ted Martin of the 10th Cavalry Regiment told the Associated Press that soldiers went to the site near Baiji at midnight Friday after being alerted by U.S. Special Forces teams who became suspicions of the site because of the presence of surface-to-air missiles guarding the area.

Martin said that in addition to the drums, soldiers also found two mobile laboratories containing equipment for mixing chemicals, but they appeared to have been looted.

Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles ringing the 1.5-square-mile field last night used night-vision equipment to watch for intruders. Troops had permission to shoot to kill if anyone entered the area, which was near the Tigris River about a mile outside Baiji.

Sgt. Maj. David List of the regiment's 1st Squadron said the field appeared to be a storage site for large missiles. "This whole country is a big ammo dump," List said.

David Kelly and Mark Porubcansky are reporters for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.