Friday, March 16, 2012

UN envoy Annan slams Syrian response to peace bid

Special envoy Kofi Annan said Friday he was disappointed by President Bashar al-Assad's response to ideas for ending the bloodshed in Syria, and appealed to the UN to unite in its bid to halt the conflict.

"The stronger and more unified your message, the better chance we have of shifting the dynamics of the conflict," Annan was quoted as telling the 15-nation UN Security Council.

He also told the council he was sending a mission to Damascus next week to discuss putting monitors in place even though he has had a "disappointing response" so far to his proposals from Assad, diplomats said.

The United Nations says some 8,000 people have died since opposition protests flared last March, but dissent monitors say the toll is closer to 9,100 lives.

Speaking by video conference from Geneva, Annan briefed a closed-door meeting of the council about his talks with Assad in Damascus last weekend.

The former UN secretary general said his "six point proposals" to Assad remain on the table, but that he had "no illusions" over the scale of his mission as the uprising enters its second year.

Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, speaking in Geneva, confirmed the plans for a mission to the Syrian capital.

"Mr Annan has decided to send a mission to Damascus to discuss modalities of a monitoring mechanism and practical steps to implement other issues in Mr Annan's proposals, including an immediate cessation of the violence and the killing," Fawzi said.

On the ground, thousands of anti-regime protesters Friday called for foreign military intervention to bring down the Syrian government. And the Syrian Observatory said at least 15 people were killed around the country on Friday.

The Syrian foreign ministry said in Damascus the government has vowed to cooperate with Annan, the special UN and Arab League envoy, while at the same time fighting "terrorism," its term for Syria's anti-regime revolt.

The government is "determined to protect its citizens by disarming the terrorists and continues to search for a peaceful solution to the crisis by cooperating with special envoy Kofi Annan," it said in a letter addressed to the United Nations, carried by state news agency SANA.

Syrian refugees go about their daily lives at the Reyhanli Refugee Camp in Antakya, Turkey

It also called "on all countries and organizations which combat terrorism... to apply pressure on all known parties to stop their support for terrorism and to halt the bloodshed" in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier that Moscow was using its contacts with the Syrian regime to urge it to fully cooperate with Annan, but that other world powers should use their influence with the armed opposition.

"Other Security Council members should also do their job and demand the opposition not provoke an escalation of the situation," he said.

China and Russia have twice used their veto powers to block draft resolutions condemning the Syrian authorities, charging that they were unbalanced and aimed at regime change.

Moscow has also hit out at a new US draft, saying that the onus it places on the regime to halt the violence first is unreasonable in a conflict that is now as much armed insurgency as peaceful protest movement.

Activists called on their Facebook page, Syrian Revolution 2011, for nationwide protests after weekly Muslim prayers to demand "immediate military intervention by the Arabs and Muslims, followed by the rest of the world."

"The people want military intervention, the Free Syrian Army to be armed, and the fall of the regime," several thousand demonstrators chanted in Aleppo in northern Syria, an activist at the scene told AFP in Beirut by telephone.

Thousands of others took part in protests in the flashpoint provinces of Homs and across Daraa as well as several districts of Damascus and the region, said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Huge rallies in support of Assad were held in Damascus and other major cities on Thursday to mark the anniversary. But numbers have fallen at anti-regime demonstrations as security forces seize protest centers.

The United Nations and Organization of Islamic Cooperation are this weekend to send experts on a Syrian government-led humanitarian mission to the protest cities of Homs, Daraa and Hama where thousands have reportedly been killed.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos stressed "it is increasingly vital that humanitarian organizations have unhindered access to identify urgent needs and provide emergency care and basic supplies. There is no time to waste."

The United Nations estimates more than 30,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring states and another 200,000 have been displaced within the country by the violence.

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