Syria starts withdrawing its ambassadors

Syria has begun pre-emptively withdrawing ambassadors from Europe because it fears EU members will expel them in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless crackdown on an uprising, Arab diplomats said.

They said Syrian envoys in a number of European Union countries had been told to come home by their government and were preparing to leave as soon as possible, although they did not specify the countries.

EU member states have been discussing proposals, promoted by France, to collectively downgrade diplomatic ties both in EU capitals and Damascus, but with no agreement so far.

In Brussels, an EU foreign policy spokesperson said: “There is an ongoing discussion about the status of EU embassies in Syria and Syrian embassies in Brussels and in EU states, but there is no proposal at the moment to expel Syrian diplomats.”

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who has closed his country’s embassy in Damascus but not yet asked the Syrian ambassador to leave, made clear that EU foreign ministers meeting in Copenhagen had not reached a common position.

“We wish there had been a collective decision on this point, and we call on our partners to withdraw their ambassadors altogether,” he told reporters on Saturday. “It has not been possible.”

The French ambassador to Damascus returned to Paris last Tuesday after President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decided to cut France’s diplomatic presence in Syria.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said this week that, in response to savage killings and human rights abuses, his country would cease activities at its embassy in Damascus, but would not formally close its mission.

The United States, Britain, Switzerland and Canada have already closed their embassies in the Syrian capital as violence intensifies across the country.

The United Nations estimates that Syrian security forces have killed well over 7 500 people in an increasingly bloody conflict that began as a mainly peaceful protest movement a year ago and now appears to be sliding into civil war.

Syrian officials said in December that “terrorists” had killed more than 2 000 soldiers and police. — Reuters

Syria has been described as a nation at war with itself. View our special report

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