U.N. Envoy Says Syria Continues to Violate Cease-Fire

By: Neil MacFarquhar

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Offering a gloomy assessment of the nearly month-old cease-fire in Syria, Kofi Annan, its main architect, said Tuesday that despite some decrease in military assaults, continuing “serious violations” could undermine the full peace plan.

Mr. Annan, the envoy of both the United Nations and the Arab League, said that the deployment of unarmed cease-fire monitors — 60 so far, with a full contingent of 300 anticipated by month’s end — had served at least to calm the most blatant violations of the cease-fire.

“Government troops and armor are still present, though in smaller formations,” Mr. Annan told a news conference in Geneva, echoing an earlier private briefing he gave to the Security Council by video link. There had been “worrying” episodes of violence by the government, he said, but attacks against government forces and a spate of bombings were also cause for concern.

Hervé Ladsous, the head of United Nations peacekeeping operations worldwide, also briefed the Security Council, saying that while the use of heavy weapons and big military campaigns had been reduced, there was a quieter crackdown under way, including mass arrests, according to one diplomat present who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The observers have circulated fairly freely, but there have been times when the Syrian military obstructed their work, including once when they were stopped at a checkpoint, the diplomat said.

Mr. Ladsous described the deployment of soldiers in some cities as “intrusive,” he said, and there had been no progress on efforts to allow the monitors to use helicopters in their work.

Mr. Annan again put the main onus on the government of President Assad, saying it had “greater responsibility in terms of its size to really do whatever it can to reduce the violence.” But he did not absolve the opposition.

Syria’s 23 million people have “been taken prisoner,” Mr. Annan said, noting continuing human-rights abuses and stressing that moving ahead with the political dialogue envisioned in his six-point plan required respect for the cease-fire. “It will be extremely difficult to make good progress on dialogue if the current conditions persist,” he said.

The assessment was not markedly different from his last report two weeks ago, nor was the reaction of ambassadors. They broke down along the fault lines that have long stymied any forceful international effort to halt the violence in Syria: The United States and its allies focused on the failures of the Syrian government to implement the plan, while the Russians and the Chinese focused on the limited progress.

“Things are moving in a positive direction,” Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian ambassador, was quoted as telling reporters outside the Council chamber. “Many obstacles, but I think they can be overcome.”

Several ambassadors focused on the humanitarian situation. Senior United Nations officials have objected repeatedly to the Syrian government obstructing attempts to deliver aid to about one million people considered in need.

The basic conclusion among the envoys was that although the implementation of the plan was clearly flawed, there was no real alternative. Mr. Annan stressed that himself. “The U.N. supervision mission is possibly the only remaining chance to stabilize the country,” he said, before the onslaught of a civil war that could destabilize the entire region.

Inside Syria, only scattered violence was reported Tuesday, with residents in Rastan, a city near Homs held by defecting soldiers, reporting heavy government shelling.

At the United Nations, outside the Security Council, Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador, waved what he said was a CD containing the confessions of 26 Arab fighters on the side of the opposition, adding that the government had killed 15 more. Over the course of 14 months of the uprising, at least 10,000 civilians have been killed, as well as hundreds of soldiers, the United Nations estimates.

The Assad government has long maintained that the uprising had nothing to do with demands for political change, but was rather a foreign plot by the enemies of Syria to pay radical jihadis to destabilize the country. Mr. Jaafari accused Gulf Arab nations of harboring the religious sheiks who issued the religious writs, or fatwas, sanctioning the fight in Syria as a sacred duty.

“We need to see these Qataris, the Saudis, the Turkish governments, as well as some other nations, stopping their incitement to violence, their sponsorship of the armed rebellion,” he said.

While Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the countries that have promised to finance the rebellion, there is little tangible evidence that significant funds have reached the rebels.

Senior officials in the region and experts on radical groups also say that while there is all manner of talk about a holy war in Syria, it seems to exist now more on the individual level rather than as an organized effort. Many officials, including the American ambassador, Susan E. Rice, noted that Syria had abetted such jihadists when they passed through Syria to fight in Iraq and was now paying the price.

“But this is substantially a diversion from the main point,” Ms. Rice said, while conceding that it was impossible to rule out the presence of foreign fighters. “The main point is that the government continues to kill its own people, and having done so over the course of more than a year, it has created a situation in which people have taken up arms to defend themselves.”

Source: New York Times

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