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Middle east

UN demands free access for observer mission to Syria

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2012-04-18

An advance team of UN observers led by Moroccan Colonel Ahmed Himmiche (pictured) is in Syria to monitor a ceasefire. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has urged Damascus to grant the mission free access and said Syria is responsible for the team's safety.

Following the humiliating fiasco of the Arab League observer mission to Syria earlier this year, all eyes are now on the United Nations team that arrived there on Sunday.

The mission was given the unanimous backing of the UN Security Council on April 14, and six unarmed observers are now on the ground in Syria under the command of Moroccan Colonel Ahmed Himmiche.

The small initial team will be augmented to around 30 in the coming days. This number will then be increased to 250 observers within weeks, a reinforcement that will require further UN negotiation with Damascus.

Their mission is to report back on violations of a ceasefire which began on April 12, in line with a plan put forward by peace envoy and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Situation in Syria is ‘confused’

It is going to be an uphill task – since they arrived in the country violence has not stopped despite the ceasefire, even if the death toll has been slightly lower in recent days.

“Normally this wouldn’t de such a difficult mission because in most cases there is a clearly defined ceasefire,” Yves Berthelot, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, explained to FRANCE24.

“But in Syria the situation is much more confused. The conflict is raging across the country and fighting involves many disparate groups.”

He added, however: “The UN does have lots of experience in this field and has engaged in dozens of similar missions. There is also no doubt that the observers themselves are top drawer.”

The observers have been recruited from a wide range of backgrounds, mainly made up of “military, police, human rights experts and diplomats,” said Berthelot, who is author of the book "L'ONU pour les Nulls" (The UN for Dummies).

Team not yet finalised

The eventual contingent of 250 will be drawn mostly from regional countries that can be “rapidly deployed” and who will be aware of the regional and local politics.

“This is an absolute necessity,” said Berthelot. “It will mean they are less likely to be manipulated by one or other of the interested parties in Syria.”

Kofi Anna’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi explained on Monday that the observers would come from nationalities that “will be satisfactory to the Syrian authorities,” namely from Asian, Latin American and African countries.

On Tuesday, Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov said there would also be a number of observers from his own country, which is a close ally of the Syrian regime.

The UN, which will be responsible for all logistics of the mission, has yet to finalise the list of observers who will make up the final mission.

“The operations department for peacekeeping duties is working around the clock to find enough suitable members for the eventual complete observer mission,” said Fawzi.


Date created : 2012-04-17


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