/ 11 May 2011

Syria abandons quest for UN seat

Syria Abandons Quest For Un Seat

Syria on Wednesday withdrew a bitterly contested bid to win a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, facing mounting international pressure over its deadly crackdown on opposition protesters.

Kuwait will take Syria’s place in an Asian group of nations nominated for places on the Geneva-based council, with Syria saying it would bid for a spot in the next elective cycle.

Syrian armed forces continue to intensify the campaign against a two-month uprising, shelling key cities within the country and detaining hundreds of protesters. We take a look at developments over the last two weeks.

Between 600 and 700 people have been killed and at least 8 000 arrested since the start of the protest movement in mid-March, human rights groups say.

Protesters are demanding free elections, the release of political prisoners, constitutional changes that would strip the ruling Baath party of its hegemony over Syria as well as new media and political parties laws.

Last month, under pressure from the international community, Assad lifted nearly five decades years of emergency rule but the heavy-handed crackdown on pro-reform protesters has continued unabated.

But under the UN resolution that established the Human Rights Council in 2006, member nations are expected to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights.

“There was clearly some embarrassment about [the country’s bid for a seat on the council] because of the violence in Syria now,” said one Asian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Western nations had launched a major diplomatic push to block Syria’s effort to get on the council. They are also making a new attempt to get the UN Security Council to condemn President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign against his opponents.

Russia, however, has already blocked one Security Council statement on the Syria crackdown, but Britain is now leading efforts to see whether the 15-nation council could pass a resolution or statement warning the Assad regime.

Syria is a key Russian ally in the Middle East. Russia, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, can veto any resolution.

On Wednesday, two Syrian soldiers were reported to have been killed in clashes with “terrorists,” as authorities continued to chased regime opponents and activists spoke of several bodies littering the streets of a neighbourhood in the flashpoint city of Homs.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc would look at fresh sanctions this week against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime after already homing in on his inner circle.

Two soldiers were killed and five others wounded in clashes with “armed terrorist gangs” in the protest hubs of Homs and Daraa, state news agency SANA reported.

The deadly confrontations occurred as troops and security forces “arrested dozens of wanted men and seized large quantities of weapons and ammunition in the Bab Amr neighbourhood of Homs” and in Daraa.

Earlier, a human rights activist said shelling and automatic weapons fire had rocked Homs, a central industrial city that is Syria’s third largest and has been the target of a security operation since Monday.

“This operation terrified residents and security agents took part in looting,” human rights activist Najati Tayara said, adding that 50 tanks had rolled into the Sittin neighbourhood.

Another activist spoke of “bodies sprawled on the streets in Bab Amr”, adding that “no one dares retrieve them because of the snipers and the security forces”.

Rights groups say nine people were killed in Homs on Wednesday but the report could not be independently verified.

Looking for trouble
The army also kept up its sweep of the flashpoint Mediterranean town of Banias, scouting for “protest organisers yet to be arrested”, said Rami Abdul Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“A tank has been stationed since Tuesday night on the square where Banias demonstrations are held,” he said, adding that the northern town remained encircled by the army after weekend arrests put some 450 people behind bars.

He said 270 individuals released after the arrest campaign had “signed an agreement to stop demonstrating” and that many of them had been “struck violently and insulted” by security forces.

Abdul Rahman also reported that one person died Wednesday in Banias of injuries sustained on Saturday.

For almost two months, protests have railed against Assad’s regime, while troops and security forces have brutally repressed the uprising.

On Wednesday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged again Assad to listen to his people.

“I urge again President Assad to heed calls for reform and freedom and to desist from excessive force and mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators,” Ban said in Geneva.

Also on Wednesday, Al-Jazeera television said journalist Dorothy Parvez, missing since she arrived in Syria late in April is being held in Tehran. Parvez holds American, Canadian and Iranian passports. — AFP