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Middle East

UN chief calls for expanded observer mission in Syria

Video by Yuka ROYER


Latest update : 2012-04-19

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has proposed an expanded mission of 300 observers to monitor Syria's fragile ceasefire, urging Syrian authorities to comply with their obligation to pull back troops.

AFP - UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called for an expanded UN ceasefire observation mission to be sent to Syria even though he says President Bashar al-Assad has failed to end the violence there.

The UN leader wants 300 unarmed observers sent on a three-month mission, while adding -- in a report to be discussed by the UN Security Council on Thursday -- that it was "critical" for Assad to adhere to an agreed peace plan.

His report, obtained by AFP, said that even though Syrian troops have not been withdrawn from cities and violence has escalated since the ceasefire began, "an opportunity for progress may now exist, on which we need to build."

The 300 observers would be deployed over several weeks. They would go to about 10 different parts of Syria to monitor the fragile cessation of hostilities that began on April 12 and the implementation of a peace plan by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, which Syria has agreed to support.

Ban said the proposed mission would "greatly contribute to observing and upholding the commitment of the parties to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms."

Diplomats said a resolution allowing the full observer mission could be ready by early next week if there is agreement among the 15 members.

US ambassador Susan Rice said on Wednesday that the council would study Ban's comments and listen to a briefing by Annan, expected early next week, before deciding its next move.

The council called for Ban's report when it passed a resolution on Saturday which sent an advanced party of 30 unarmed military observers to Syria.

The UN says well over 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against Assad started in March 2011. Activists says scores have died since the ceasefire started.

Ban said violence levels "dropped markedly" when the ceasefire began.

But he added that the government "has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks.

"Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces."

The UN chief said only "partial" action has been taken on other parts of the Annan plan. "While difficult to assess, it does not amount yet to the clear signal expected from the Syrian authorities," he said.

Protesters have been fired upon, Ban's report said, adding: "The status and circumstances of thousands of detainees across the country remains unclear and there continue to be concerning reports of significant abuses."

The UN secretary general said it was "critical" for Assad to fully carry out his promise to "cease troop movements towards population centers, cease all use of heavy weapons in population centers, and begin the pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers."

At the moment there are eight observers in Syria, led by a Moroccan colonel. The full mission would be led by an officer of at least the rank of major general.

Ban said the team has so far been refused permission to go to the protest city of Homs, with Syrian officials claiming "security concerns." Activists have reported heavy shelling of rebel-held parts of the city in recent days.

The mission went to the revolt epicenter of Deraa on Tuesday, where "it enjoyed freedom of movement" and "observed no armed violence or heavy weapons."

But the UN leader confirmed violent incidents when the UN observers went to Arbeen, in the Damascus suburbs, on Wednesday.

"A crowd that was part of an opposition demonstration forced United Nations vehicles to a checkpoint. Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles," the report said.

"Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations military observers," it said, adding that a UN vehicle was slightly damaged but no injuries were observed by the team.

Ban said the new mission, to be known as the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, UNSMIS, would include political, human rights, civil affairs, public information, public security, gender and other advisors.

But it would not carry out humanitarian assistance duties.


Date created : 2012-04-19


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