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Syrian regime set on 'repression', France says

Following a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé (left) said the Syrian opposition has abided by the requirements of a proposed peace plan while the regime has pursued its "repressive tactics" despite a ceasefire.


AFP - France warned on Thursday that Syria is on course for civil war, calling for a more robust UN mission there and accusing Bashar al-Assad's regime of failing to honour a ceasefire pledge.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe was speaking in Paris at a conference of more than a dozen senior officials from states that support sanctions against Syria to force Assad to comply with United Nations envoy Kofi Annan's plan.

"The Annan plan is a chance for peace, a chance that should not be missed," he said, praising the pro-democratic revolution against Assad for playing its part and denouncing what Paris sees as the regime's intransigence.

"The opposition has fulfilled its obligations under the Annan plan, which was welcomed by the Syrian National Council," he said, referring to the main umbrella body representing the diverse anti-regime forces.

"The groups on the ground have respected the ceasefire, despite the fact that coordination between them has been made very hard by the provocations of the regime," he argued.

"We cannot say the same for the Syrian regime. It is pursuing without shame repressive tactics that have already left dozens more dead since the ceasefire was due to go into effect," he said.

He called for tough sanctions against Damascus and for the small UN observer team on the ground to be boosted to 300 or 400-strong and made "robust and credible" by being given land and air transport to cover the country.

"The Annan plan is a guarantee of peace and freedom -- its failure the path to civil, even regional, war. Let us face our responsibility," he said, urging world powers to back the UN and Arab League peace efforts.

Earlier, Juppe had complained that Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had refused an invitation to turn up to the Paris talks, which included US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and several other senior officials.

"I regret that Russia continues to lock itself into a vision that isolates it more and more, not just from the Arab world but also from the international community," Juppe told reporters.

With Russian opposition preventing the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Assad, an ad hoc group of states who dub themselves the "Friends of Syria" are examining other options.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy said Thursday that these could include the imposition of humanitarian corridors within Syria in order to get aid to beleaguered opposition bastions.

But Lavrov insisted that Moscow was "honestly fulfilling its part" in efforts to end the violence and said the international community should stop predicting that Annan's peace plan would fail.

"I have today called on my colleagues to abandon the rhetoric of self-fulfilling prophecies," Lavrov said in Brussels.

"Before thinking about what to do in the future, we should do everything to make this plan successful."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has also called for more observers to be sent to Syria to monitor the tenuous week-old truce, saying that "an opportunity for progress may now exist, on which we need to build."

The UN leader said he wants 300 unarmed observers sent on a three-month mission, and added it was "critical" for Assad's regime to adhere to the peace plan agreed with Annan.

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 Annan's plan.

Ministers from Germany, Turkey, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere were to attend the Paris talks.

Meanwhile, there have been reports of fresh violence in Syria, where the UN says over 9,000 people have died in the past 13 months of fighting.

Syrian troops have continued to pound rebel strongholds, including the city of Homs, even while the regime sought to reassure an increasingly sceptical world that it is committed to a week-old ceasefire.

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