Annan warns of last chance for Syria

United Nations special envoy for Syria Kofi Annan delivers a statement to the media after addressing the UN Security Council in New York. (AP)

United Nations special envoy for Syria Kofi Annan delivers a statement to the media after addressing the UN Security Council in New York. (AP)

Annan told the UN Security Council that the priority in Syria was “to stop the killing” and expressed concern that torture, mass arrests and other human rights violations were intensifying.

Regime forces “continue to press against the population,” despite a putative truce that started on April 12 but attacks are more discreet because of the presence of UN military observers, diplomats quoted him as saying.

“The biggest priority, first of all we need to stop the killing,” Annan told reporters in Geneva, adding that his six-point peace plan is “the only remaining chance to stabilise the country”.

Annan briefed the council on his efforts to get President Bashar al-Assad to implement the plan, which he said was possibly “the last chance to avoid civil war”.

He stressed the peace bid was not an “open-ended” opportunity for Assad, the diplomats who attended the briefing said.

Annan plans to return to Damascus in the coming weeks, his spokesperson said on Tuesday, though this depended on events on the ground there. It would be only his second visit since his mission began earlier this year.

Increasing pressure
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Washington’s goal was still the removal of Assad.

“The US remains focused on increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and on Assad himself to step down,” Rice said.

“The situation in Syria remains dire, especially for the millions who continue to endure daily attacks and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance,” she told reporters after Annan’s briefing.

Top US officials are to meet delegates from the Syrian Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Washington this week to try to build a “more cohesive opposition” to Assad, a state department spokesperson said.

Annan updated the UN body on the status of his six-point plan, which includes a UN military observer mission, a day after UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned world powers were racing against time to prevent all-out civil war in Syria.

The current 60 or so observers on the ground “have had a calming effect” and the deployment by the end of the month of a 300-strong team would see a “much greater impact,” Annan said.

While there had been a decrease in military activities, there had been “serious violations” of the agreed ceasefire, which included attacks on government troops and facilities, he added.

Human rights abuses
“The need for human rights abuses to come to an end cannot be underestimated,” he stressed.

“This is what the plan is all about.”

UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told the Security Council that arms were being smuggled in both directions between Lebanon and Syria.

“What we see across the region is a dance of death at the brink of the abyss of war,” he told reporters later.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said almost 12 000 people, most of them civilians, had died since the revolt broke out in March 2011.

Of that number, about 800 had died since the truce was supposed to have taken effect, said the Britain-based watchdog — and at least six civilians had been killed on Tuesday.

The unrest has persisted despite the presence of UN observers monitoring the truce and parliamentary elections on Monday.

The opposition boycotted the vote, denouncing it as a sham. The US said the exercise was “bordering on ludicrous”.

Bolstering observer mission
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the UN to bolster its observer mission well past the 300 authorised under a Security Council resolution.

“The UN should bolster its mission to Syria with up to 3 000 observers to give a full picture of the situation in the country,” Erdogan said.

“We support the Annan plan but if someone were to ask me what my hopes are, I would say I have lost hope.”

The United Nations has accused both the Syrian regime and rebels of violating the truce, and China urged all parties to honour their commitments.

“All parties in Syria must abide by their ceasefire commitments, support and cooperate with the work of the UN supervision team, to create the conditions to launch an inclusive political process as soon as possible,” Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said during a visit by opposition Syrian National Council chief Burhan Ghalioun.

The International Committee of the Red Cross appealed for $26-million to step up its aid to Syria.

The group has been working alongside the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to bring humanitarian relief to about 1.5-million people affected by the bloodshed.

The ICRC is providing monthly food parcels for about 100 000 people in particular need, president Jakob Kellenberger said.
— Sapa-AFP

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