- peacekeeping - Russia - Syria
Annan visits Syrian refugees amid cross-border tensions
Special envoy Kofi Annan visited Syrian refugees in Turkey on Tuesday as his peace plan to end the violence hung by a thread. The visit comes as Ankara accused Syria of "violating" its borders when it fired on a refugee camp in Turkey on Monday.
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan paid a visit to Syrian refugee camps in Turkey on Tuesday amid escalating tensions between the two countries.
Annan visited the camps in the south-east of Turkey just a day after Syrian forces fired shots across the border, wounding at least four Syrian nationals and two Turkish aid workers.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogen slammed the attack, describing it as a ‘clear violation’ of its borders and vowed to take the ‘necessary measures’, according to the Turkish news agency Anatolia.
Speaking on a visit to China, Erdogen accused Syria's President Bashar al Assad of being personally responsible for the killing of civilians.
"He is continuing to kill 60, 70, 80, 100 every day. This is the situation," Erdogen said.
Syria later hit back at Turkey, accusing its neighbour of arming rebels to fight against the regime.
Annan’s visit to camps in the provinces of Kilis and Hatay came as his UN and Arab League-backed six-point peace plan hangs by a thread. Tuesday marked the deadline for Presdient Bashar al-Assad to withdraw his forces from urban areas.
Ankara did not spell out its likely response to the shootings, but the options appear to focus on either sending troops across the border to enforce a bufferzone between the two countries, or creating humanitarian corridors inside Syria to provide refugees a safe passage out of the country.
Turkey's Prime Minister is set to meet Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Friday to discuss the Syrian crisis.
"This is a serious warning from Turkey to Syria," said Jasper Mortimer, France 24’s correspondent in Turkey.
Mortimer believes that under the UN charter Turkey would have the right to set up a safe haven inside northern Syria if it could argue under international law that Syria was a threat to regional stability.
In a separate incident on Monday, Syrian troops were also held reponsible for the killing of a Lebanese television cameraman, Ali Shaaban, who was shot inside Lebanese territory.
"Obviously Syrian troops shooting into Turkey and Lebanon and actually crossing into Lebanon two weeks ago, as well as the fact that 25,000 Syrian refugees have flooded across the border into Turkey, increases the argument that Syria is a threat to regional stability," Mortimer said. "The creation of a safe haven inside northern Syria would, therefore, be justified."
Annan was greeted by hundreds of Syrian refugees who took advantage of the heavy media presence to send a message to politicians across the globe. Many held aloft banners and placards denouncing Assad and Russia.
Others carried messages calling for international intervention such as ‘Waiting means more blood’ and ‘The world is silent -- the killing continues’.
"The refugees are saying if the world is not prepared to intervene then give us the guns and heavy weaponry so we can fight Assad," Mortimer said. "They are very pessimistic about the peace plan simply becasue they don’t trust Assad."
‘Syria could be more decisive’
Turkey’s response is likely to depend on whether or not Syria adheres to the cease-fire brokered by Annan, which is widely seen as the last chance for diplomacy to bring an end to the 13-month long crisis.
Under the conditions of Annan’s plan the Syrian government must withdraw its troops and heavy weapons from towns on Tuesday, with a ceasfire to be implimented by both government forces and opposition fighters over the next two days. By 6 am Damascus time on Thursday, April 12, all violence must be brought to an end, after which political talks between the parties will take place.
Despite Damascus' agreement to the plan, fighting continued on Tuesday, with shelling reported in Homs and other towns. Doubts are growing over President Assad’s willingness to stick to the deal. On Tuesday, even Russia and China, Syria’s longterm allies, urged Damascus to to impliment the plan.
"We told our Syrian colleague…we think their actions could be more active, more decisive in regard to the fulfillment of the points of the plan," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Levrov told reporters after a meeting in Moscow with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moualem.
Lavrov also urged foreign states to pressure opposition groups to take steps to end the fighting and impliment the ceasefire.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin called on the Syrian government to ‘seize important opportunities’.
Moualem said government troops had already pulled back some of its troops from cities and insisted that the Syrian government wanted a say in the composition of an international monitoring team, who would observe the ceasefire.
"An end to the violence must be simultaneous with the arrival of the international observers," he said.
France later debunked Syria’s claims it was implimenting the peace plan, calling Al-Moualem’s statement a ‘flagrant and unacceptable lie’.