Calls for UN monitors as fragile Syria ceasefire holds

Agence France-Presse
As the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels traded accusations of trying to wreck the ceasefire, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan insisted Thursday that "all parties have obligations to implement fully the six-point plan"

DAMASCUS, Syria (AFP) – A fragile and hard-won ceasefire appeared to be holding in Syria as Western nations on Friday, April 13, began drawing up plans to send UN monitors to the conflict-torn nation.

“I am encouraged by reports that the situation in Syria is relatively calm and that the cessation of hostilities appears to be holding,” the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said in a statement.

But as the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels traded accusations of trying to wreck the ceasefire, Annan insisted Thursday that “all parties have obligations to implement fully the six-point plan.”

“What has happened today does not constitute full compliance by the Syrian government,” Annan was quoted as saying as he briefed the UN Security Council. “Syrian troops and armor must return to their barracks immediately.”

After 13 months of war, which activists say has claimed more than 10,000 lives since March 2011, Annan said the UN Security Council must demand that troops be pulled out of cities.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said plans were being drawn up to send observers to Syria, starting with the dispatch of a UN peacekeeping general as early as Friday.

An advanced mission of 20-30 observers could be in place early next week, diplomats said. The full mission would be at least 200 monitors.

Ban said “the world is watching however with skeptical eyes,” adding previous promises made by the regime “have not been kept.”

A draft Security Council resolution, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, includes demands that Assad “visibly” implement his commitment to withdraw troops and guns from population centers.

And it adds that if the Syrian government does not implement its commitments, the council would “consider further measures as appropriate.”

Despite the prospect of tough talks, some diplomats said they were optimistic an agreement on the draft could be reached by Friday.

And long-time Syrian ally Russia said the Security Council could pass the text as early as Friday.

“We are determined, we are moving with pace and purpose,” said one UN diplomat involved in the talks. “We all want this mission in as soon as possible,” the diplomat added.

“It will be a test of the attitude of Russia and China,” another diplomat commented to AFP.

Syrians voiced hope the UN-backed ceasefire would last, but expressed fear that the government and the rebels were unlikely to commit for good.

“Inshallah (God willing) it will last,” said Wassim, standing in his shop in a Damascus square.

Despite the regime’s commitment to pull back, the spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), Basma Qoudmani, said “we have concrete proof that heavy weapons are still in population centers.”

World powers said the tentative truce in Syria was a “fragile” first step and joined the calls for Damascus to carry out a broader peace plan and permit international observers to monitor it.

In a statement after two days of talks in Washington, foreign ministers from the Group of Eight major economies, which include Western powers and Syria’s main supporter Russia, urged “immediate” action to send in observers.

For protesters though, the first real test of the government’s commitment will be to allow peaceful demonstrations.

“We call on the people to demonstrate and express themselves… The right to demonstrate is a principle point of the plan,” Burhan Ghalioun, who leads the exile SNC, told AFP.

But the interior ministry insists people wanting to demonstrate must have permits.

Renewed bloodshed on Thursday killed at least eight people, including seven civilians, and wounded dozens more, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Even so, the toll is markedly lower than it has been in recent weeks, when there have often been scores of people killed.

The interior ministry urged tens of thousands of people who fled the violence both inside and outside the country to return home and offered an amnesty to opposition gunmen without “blood on their hands.”

The rebel Free Syrian Army, for its part, insisted it was sticking to the ceasefire.

“The regime is being elusive. We are 100 percent committed to the ceasefire, but the regime is not abiding by it,” FSA spokesman Colonel Kassem Saadeddine told AFP by Internet.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said meanwhile that France had evidence that crimes against humanity have been committed by the Syrian regime.

“France has gathered a certain number of elements of evidence which would enable us if the time comes, notably at the UN, to take it before the international courts, because crimes against humanity have been committed,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the G8 talks. – Agence France-Presse