Sarkozy calls for Western intervention to help rebels in Syria

By: Alice Fordham and Colum Lynch

PARIS, France —President Nicolas Sarkozy accused the Syrian government Thursday of planning to destroy the rebellious city of Homs and said Western powers should set up what he called humanitarian corridors to protect rebel forces.

Syrian crackdown: Protesters opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have faced violent responses from security forces.

Sarkozy, who is running for reelection, did not say to what extent — if at all — France would be willing to enforce such corridors by military intervention. But his declaration, in a Europe 1 radio interview, dramatized the West’s frustration over continuing violence in Homs and other Syrian towns and villages that have risen up against President Bashar al-Assad’s iron-fisted rule.

The French president made the comments as violence continued to flare intermittently across Syria despite the presence of an advance team of United Nations observers.

Four civilians were killed Thursday by security forces, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group said three people died north of Damascus and one in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour. It was not possible to verify the reports.

The latest reports of violence came after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, concerned about a faltering U.N.-backed cease-fire in Syria, recommended that the Security Council approve an initial contingent of 300 unarmed observers to monitor the truce.

In a letter to the council, Ban proposed that it establish a full-fledged U.N. monitoring mission of “blue berets” backed by air transport, with the authority to carry out unimpeded investigations into possible cease-fire violations by the Syrian government or armed opposition.

The new mission, to be called the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNMIS) ,would be deployed within weeks after the 15-nation council adopted a resolution creating it. Ban suggested that the mission might need to be enlarged and that he would come back to the council within 90 days with a new plan to “further develop and define the mission’s mandate, scope and methods of work.”

“It would be a nimble presence that would constantly and rapidly observe, establish and assess the facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner, and engage all relevant parties,” Ban wrote of the new mission. His eight-page letter was distributed to the Security Council late Wednesday. Security Council diplomats said they hope a resolution can be voted on by early next week.

The letter provides a mixed account of the security conditions on the ground since the United Nations deployed its first monitors three days ago in Syria, noting that “it remains a challenge to assess accurately unconfirmed and conflicting reports of developments in Syria.”

Ban wrote that “levels of violence dropped markedly” in Syria since April 12, when a U.N.-brokered cease-fire went into effect. However, he added, “the Syrian government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks. Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces. The government reports violent actions by armed groups. The cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete.”

Both government forces and the opposition have violated the conditions of the six-point plan proposed by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, and dozens of people have died in the last week. Syrian security forces have maintained a presence inside several cities, while a spokesman for the disorganized armed rebels known as the Free Syrian Army said earlier this week that they considered retaliation necessary in places where the army was still using heavy artillery.

To make the force effective, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said, it should include between 300 and 400 well-equipped troops with a mission that he described as “robust.”

Juppe invited a dozen foreign ministers and other senior diplomats Thursday to a meeting of the Friends of Syria group, seeking to devise new ways of helping Annan in setting up the force. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton planned to participate in the gathering on the way home from a NATO meeting in Brussels.

“Can we contribute to the deployment of a real force of effective observers on the ground, in other words that they are numerous — at least 300-400 observers to cover the country — that they are well equipped, with some robust missions, and have the means to get around the country?” Juppe said in explaining the agenda to reporters. “And if that’s not possible within a certain time frame, what other measures and initiatives must be taken to stop the massacre?”

Juppe did not refer to Sarkozy’s endorsement of humanitarian corridors. The idea has been floated a number of times over the last year, but it would require a level of military intervention that the United States and its main allies have said they are unwilling to envision for the time being.

Proposals for stronger sanctions against Syria have been opposed by Russia and China in the Security Council. The two nations, which have veto power on the 15-member council, were invited to Thursday’s meeting but declined to attend despite their support for Annan’s peace plan, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

Ban’s letter to the Security Council said the proposed new U.N. observer mission, to be called the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNMIS) ,would be deployed within weeks after the council adopted a resolution creating it. Ban suggested that the mission might need to be enlarged and that he would come back to the council within 90 days with a new plan to “further develop and define the mission’s mandate, scope and methods of work.”

“It would be a nimble presence that would constantly and rapidly observe, establish and assess the facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner, and engage all relevant parties,” Ban wrote of the new mission. His eight-page letter was distributed to the Security Council late Wednesday. Security Council diplomats said they hope a resolution can be voted on by early next week.

The letter provides a mixed account of the security conditions on the ground since the United Nations deployed its first monitors three days ago in Syria, noting that “it remains a challenge to assess accurately unconfirmed and conflicting reports of developments in Syria.”

Ban wrote that “levels of violence dropped markedly” in Syria since April 12, when a U.N.-brokered cease-fire went into effect. However, he added, “the Syrian government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks. Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces. The government reports violent actions by armed groups. The cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete.”

In Syria, both government forces and the opposition have violated conditions of Annan’s plan, and dozens of people have died in the last week.

Syrian security forces have maintained a presence inside several cities, in violation of the accord, while a spokesman for the disorganized armed rebels known as the Free Syrian Army said earlier this week that they considered retaliation necessary in places where the army was still using heavy artillery.

“The plan of Annan is a failure since the beginning,” said Col. Malik al-Kurdi, a Free Syrian Army officer speaking by telephone from a refugee camp in Turkey. “How can the U.N. send observers after over a year of violence? What are they going to find out, when everything is known to the world?”

The advance observer team of U.N. observers on Thursday visited the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising against the government began with a series of demonstrations in March 2011. Syria’s government-run media reported that the team met “a number of figures” in the province. Video footage, posted on YouTube, showed the monitors arriving in a suburb of the city, with dozens of protesters calling for the fall of the government.

The team visited the Arbeen and Zamalka areas east of Damascus on Wednesday, when activists claimed that a U.N. vehicle, surrounded by a crowd of protesters, was fired on. Video footage showed the vehicle, a crowd and the sound of an explosion, but the source of the sound was not clear.

The head of the mission, Col. Ahmed Himmiche, told Reuters news agency that the mission was not fired on.

Ban’s letter provided a different account.

“The situation in Arbeen became tense when a crowd that was part of an opposition demonstration forced United Nations vehicles to a checkpoint,” it says. “Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles. Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations Military Observers. No injuries were observed by the United Nations advance team. One United Nations vehicle was damaged slightly during the incident.”

The letter says the U.N. monitors were initially blocked from visiting the town of Homs but that they were granted “freedom of movement” during a visit to Daraa on Tuesday, where they found no evidence of armed violence or heavy weapons. Visits to three other towns, including Jobar, Zamalka and Arbeen, revealed continuing military presence at multiple checkpoints, as well as an armored personnel carried hidden under a plastic sheet, the letter said.

Source: The Washington Post

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