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SA's stance on Syria queried

Sean Christie

Rumours are mounting that, as the known death toll in Syria rises, SA's representative is among those blocking a UN Security Council resolution.

Rumours are mounting that, as the known death toll in Syria rises towards 900, South Africa’s representative is among those blocking a United Nations Security Council resolution designed to try to halt the bloodshed. But the South Africans have denied this.

“No sane-thinking government parades its views before it has considered the matter on the table,” said Nomfanelo Kota, spokesperson for South Africa’s permanent mission to the UN.

It is understood that a draft resolution, which calls on the Syrian government “to exercise utmost restraint” and for other nations to “prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the Syrian authorities of arms and related material of all types”, is finally being studied by council members.

A critical UN source labelled it “seriously tame” and “lacking in all operational clauses”. The Guardian reports that Syria’s anti-government protesters are battling against growing frustration as the movement against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, now in its third month, appears to have reached a stalemate.

Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, where the leaders took their leave relatively swiftly and peacefully, protesters in Syria are realising that Assad is a harder nut to crack and is willing to kill and jail opponents. With 76 people killed at the weekend protesters are starting to reflect on what more they can do.

According to UN sources there is little hope that the British-designed resolution will attract the necessary nine votes with no veto. “It’s a very similar situation to Libya, with protesters facing tanks and people being killed on a daily basis,” said Philippe Bolopion, the Human Rights Watch director, who is in South Africa.

“The Security Council has been absolutely silent on Syria despite the deaths and we fear that behind the council’s closed doors South Africa is among the countries saying [to the United Kingdom, the United States and France], ‘you guys abused the mandate that we gave you to intervene on behalf of civilians in Libya—how do we know you don’t have a hidden agenda now?’ It’s almost as if it’s payback time,” Bolopion said.

South Africa’s resistance to British lobbying was corroborated by several other UN missions, with one source saying that the South African team was under instructions to oppose any resolution whatsoever on Syria. “I can confirm there has been lots of fishing to determine whether the Security Council would have an appetite for this and that has generated lots of loose talk in corridors,” said the source.

Clayson Monyela, the department of international relations and cooperation spokesperson, said the rumours about South Africa’s position “have all the markings of a pre-emptive strike, an attempt to manipulate our position through the media. We only received the draft yesterday. We are studying it and we will chart our course at a meeting later today.”

Monyela said the sponsors of the draft resolution “should be more worried about those countries that have indicated that they will veto the resolution. “For our part, we’ve issued a statement condemning the human rights abuses in Syria. Our position in regard to human rights abuses of this nature is a principled one, as seen in Libya.”

The source said: “It’s a complicated dynamic in the Security Council at the moment because Lebanon, which was so instrumental in pushing for robust resolutions on Libya, cannot afford to inflame its super-power Syrian neighbour by voting for any resolution at all.

“Russia is quite close to Syria as well and because of this problem the UK has had great difficulty winning the key support of the most proximate Security Council members, [any] one of which has a veto.” Discussion of the draft resolution on Syria begins on Friday.

This article was supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundation. All views are those of the author and the Mail & Guardian

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