UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations on Thursday (Friday, July 20, Manila time) sent its top military official to Syria to take charge of the observer mission as the UN Security Council wrangled over the future of the operation.
Britain and Pakistan proposed rival resolutions extending the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) and, amid Council deadlock, a vote on both could be held Friday, just a few hours before the end of the mission’s 90-day mandate.
Britain proposed a resolution calling for a “final” 30-day extension for UNSMIS. Pakistan has suggested an unconditional 45-day addition to the mission.
Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution proposed by European nations and the United States that called for the threat of sanctions against the Syrian government to be added to the renewal of the UN mission.
The United States has expressed new skepticism about keeping the observers in Syria after the veto of any threat of sanctions.
“A rollover of the UN mission without it being tied to the potential for consequences for non-compliance or improvement in conditions on the ground does not make any sense,” US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters.
“We might consider a final brief extension of the mission, should that be proposed, if it would allow for the monitors and civilian staff to withdraw safely.”
General Babacar Gaye, chief UN military advisor, was sent to Damascus, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson told reporters, and UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous will also head to the Syrian capital in coming days.
The nearly 300 unarmed military observers and 100 civilian staff in UNSMIS may have to hurriedly leave Syria if the Security Council cannot agree to extend the mandate, UN officials said.
Gaye, of Senegal, would oversee the closure if that was decided or take temporary charge of any extended operation.
The observers were sent to monitor a ceasefire, which UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan agreed with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in April, but which has never taken hold. The mission suspended operations on June 16 because of the mounting violence in the conflict-wracked country.
Eliasson said the situation in Syria was “dramatic and dangerous” and that the UN leadership was acting while waiting for the Security Council’s decision.
“If we can play a meaningful role with UNSMIS and its possible continuation we will do so. But we will of course also watch the security situation extremely carefully. We have had traumatic experiences at the UN in the past.” – Agence France-Presse