UN ends observer mission in Syria after ceasefire bid fails
THE failure of both sides of the Syrian civil war to observe a ceasefire in line with a peace deal brokered by former United Nations and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan forced the Security Council to pull out its observer mission yesterday.
It will be replaced by a small liaison office that will support any future peace efforts in Syria, which is daily being rocked by fresh atrocities as regime forces fight it out with rebels of the Free Syrian Army.
Security Council members, who have been divided on tackling the 18-month conflict, were united behind UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s proposal to replace the 300 observers with a small group of military advisers and political, human rights and civil affair experts, France’s UN ambassador Gerard Araud, the current Security Council president, announced.
The council agreed that conditions set for extending the observer mission – a significant reduction in violence and an end to the Syrian regime’s use of heavy weapons – had not been met and its mandate would end tomorrow, he said.
Mr Araud said it was essential to have all 15 members on the divided council agree to the new liaison office, in light of the seriousness of the crisis which the UN says has killed at least 18,000 people.
Activist estimate more than 20,000 have died so far.
“What is the most important is there will be a UN presence, and we hope useful UN presence,” he said.
In a surprise follow-up, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin invited UN ambassadors from key nations and international organisations who agreed on guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition in Geneva in June to a meeting at UN headquarters yesterday to press for action.
Mr Churkin said he wanted the Geneva action group – along with Iran and Saudi Arabia – to make “a joint or parallel appeal to all the parties of the conflict that they end violence as soon as possible by a certain point in time”. Russia is one of president Bashar al-Assad’s main allies.
Mr Churkin said the government and opposition should appoint representatives “to negotiate towards a political solution, and in particular towards the establishment of a transitional governing body as provided for in the Geneva document”.
In a letter to the council last Friday, Mr Ban said the conditions for extending the observer mission had not been met, but he added that the UN must maintain a presence in Syria in order to support international efforts to broker peace. The Security Council mandated the observer mission for 90 days to monitor implementation of a six-point peace plan brokered by Mr Annan. The plan was to start with a ceasefire and withdrawal of the government’s heavy weapons and culminate with Syrian-led political talks.
Mr Assad’s government and rebel forces agreed to the plan, but it was never implemented. Because of the worsening bloodshed, the observers have been mainly confined to their hotels since 15 June, and their numbers cut by two-thirds. UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet said the observer mission “will come to an end at midnight Sunday”.
There are now 101 observers and 72 civilian staff members in Syria, he added.
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