UN votes to extend 'final' Syria mission by 30 days
The Security Council has voted to extend a UN observer mission in Syria for a "final" 30 days, leaving the door open for further extensions if the UN sees a sufficient reduction in violence to allow the mission to fulfill its mandate.
AFP - The UN Security Council on Friday unanimously voted to let the UN observer mission in Syria stay for a "final" 30 days, but remained bitterly divided over the conflict.
Russia had threatened to veto a Syria resolution for the second time in two days, but its ambassador Vitaly Churkin finally backed a resolution proposed by Britain.
The vote was taken only hours before the end of the 90-day mandate for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS). It also came with diplomatic tensions still high after Russia and China on Thursday blocked a western-backed resolution which would have threatened sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia and the United States and European nations on the 15-nation council remain divided over whether the latest resolution meant the end of UNSMIS. The 300 unarmed military observers and 100 civilian staff halted operations on June 16 because of the worsening conflict.
Resolution 2059 says the council renews UNSMIS for "a final period of 30 days" and stresses the "increasingly dangerous security situation" in Syria.
But it adds that the council would be willing to look at a further extension if UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "reports and the Security Council confirms the cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in the level of violence sufficient to allow UNSMIS to implement its mandate."
Western envoys stressed that they believe UNSMIS will now be closed down.
US ambassador Susan Rice said the resolution would allow the observers "to withdraw safely and orderly."
She added that it would be "unlikely" that the violence in Syria would ease enough to allow a continued UN presence and that the United States "strong preference" would be for the sanctions resolution.
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague was said the resolution gave Assad's government "the final chance" however to keep its commitment to end violence.
"The Assad regime must take steps to establish an environment in which the UN mission can work safely and effectively by ceasing the use of heavy weapons and the brutal assaults of its security forces," Hague said in a statement.
The Russian ambassador insisted though that the phrase "final period of 30 days" in the text was not the death knell for UNSMIS and that its work should continue.
"This is not a resolution about withdrawal, it is a resolution about continuation of the activity of the mission," Churkin told reporters.
"We should not disorient the mission and the international community by describing it as a withdrawal," he said criticising Rice.
China, which had joined in Thursday's veto, also welcomed the new extension.
Russia had originally sought an unconditional extension of the mission.
Extending UNSMIS keeps alive part of the faltering peace mission of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who expressed "disappointment" that the council had failed to increase pressure on Assad.
UN leader Ban said Friday that the Security Council failure was "deeply disappointing" but added that he and Annan would "press ahead to try and end the violence and abuses in Syria. We cannot abandon our collective responsibility to enable a peaceful, democratic, Syrian-led transition."
UNSMIS head Major General Robert Mood has left Damascus, and the top UN military advisor General Babacar Gaye is to take interim charge of the mission.
Syrian activists say more than 17,000 people have died in the past 16 months and Damascus has now become a major battleground.