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Middle east

Annan set for crunch talks with Syria’s Assad

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-05-29

UN envoy Kofi Annan is set to hold "frank" talks with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad Tuesday, following a massacre in the town of Houla on the weekend. "The six-point plan has to be implemented comprehensively," Annan told reporters Monday.

AFP - UN-Arab envoy Kofi Annan will seek to salvage his battered Syrian peace plan during "frank" talks with President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday, amid international horror at the Houla massacre of over 100 people.

As he began a visit to Syria on Monday Annan called the "tragic" massacre in the central town "an appalling moment with profound consequences."

The former UN chief said those responsible must be held to account, and urged "everyone with a gun" to abide by his six-point blueprint to help end 15 months of bloodshed.

Australia expels Syrian diplomats over Houla massacre

Australia expelled two Syrian diplomats, including the chief of mission, on Tuesday in response to the massacre of civilians in the Syrian town of Houla. Australia said it expects other countries to take similar action.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem met Annan and the head of the UN observer mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood.

Muallem explained "the truth of what is happening in Syria and the attacks against law and order which are aimed at sowing chaos... (despite) the reforms that Syria has adopted in all areas," the official SANA news agency reported.

World leaders have voiced outrage over the deaths of at least 108 people in the central town of Houla on Friday and Saturday, among them 49 children and 34 women, many blown to bits or shot dead at point blank range.

French President Francois Hollande's office said Monday that Syria's leaders would have to answer for their "murderous folly."

Pope Benedict XVI was "pained" by the massacre and called on religious communities in Syria to cooperate to bring peace to the violence-wracked country.

Meanwhile Canada's foreign minister called on the UN Security Council to take "stronger diplomatic action," including economic sanctions against the regime over its "senseless slaughter of its own people."

The comments came after the UN Security Council -- where Syrian allies Russia and China wield veto powers -- on Sunday condemned the Damascus government's use of heavy artillery in the assault on Houla.

Annan told reporters in Damascus that he was "personally shocked and horrified by the tragic incident in Houla," saying the Security Council was right to condemn it.

He urged Damascus to take "bold steps" to signal it is serious in its intention to resolve the crisis peacefully.

"And this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone with a gun.

"The six-point plan has to be implemented comprehensively. And this is not happening. I intend to have serious and frank discussions with President Bashar al-Assad," he said.

Those talks are scheduled for Tuesday, a Syrian official said on condition of anonymity.

Human Rights Watch demanded that Annan push Assad's government to allow the UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Syria to investigate the massacre.

Annan's peace plan was supposed to begin with a ceasefire from April 12, but this has been broken daily.

A Syria watchdog group said another 64 people were killed throughout the country on Monday, a day after 87 died despite the putative truce.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 34 of Sunday's dead were killed in random shelling of the central city of Hama by troops retaliating for losses.

The Observatory says more than 13,000 people have been killed in violence since the outbreak of the revolt of the Assad regime in March last year.

'Murderous folly'

The UN Security Council's condemnation of the Syrian government's role in the Houla massacre did little to bring the international powers together to end the crisis.

Britain and France had proposed a text making an even stronger condemnation of the Assad government, but Russia would not agree on the wording and demanded a special meeting before approving the eventual text.

France said on Monday it would host a Friends of Syria meeting in Paris, after Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron held talks on the crisis, and slammed the Assad regime for its part in the Houla massacre.

"The murderous folly of the Damascus regime represents a threat for regional security and its leaders will have to answer for their acts," Hollande's office said.

And Britain summoned Syria's top diplomat in London to protest against the "sickening and evil" Houla massacre, the government said.

Saudi Arabia, which has advocated arming the rebels and called for Assad to quit, urged the international community "to stop the bloodshed and the use of force against unarmed civilians," the official SPA news agency reported.

But Syria's UN envoy Bashar Jaafari said accusations of government responsibility were part of a "tsunami of lies."

Russia defended its key Middle East ally at the Security Council, and on Monday said both sides bore responsibility.

"Here we have a situation where both sides clearly had a hand in the fact that peaceful citizens were killed," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Syria's opposition renewed its call to the international community to help Syrians defend themselves.

"The Syrian National Council calls (on) brothers and friends of the Syrian people to help before it's too late," the exiled group said in a statement.

The Free Syrian Army has warned that unless the international community takes concrete action it will no longer be bound by Annan's plan.

Syria's Muslim Brotherhood lashed out at the UN Security Council for sending what it said was the "wrong message" to Damascus by only condemning the Houla massacre.

A growing concern for the international community is the more than 280 UN observers deployed in Syria as part of the peace plan.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Houla massacre had added to pressure on the monitors -- the first UN force to be thrown unarmed into a conflict with a non-existent ceasefire -- and that there was no "Plan B" if Annan's peace plan failed.

 

Date created : 2012-05-29

  • SYRIA

    Russia's Lavrov blames 'both sides' for Houla killings

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  • SYRIA

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