18 Aug 2012

UN’s new man in Syria insists: ‘I’m not crazy’

Lakhdar Brahimi tells Channel 4 News he may not succeed where Kofi Annan failed but will “do his best” to halt the 17-month old civil war.

The veteran Algerian diplomat and Nobel peace laureate was confirmed as the new United Nations mediator in Syria following Mr Annan’s resignation from the role.

The former UN Secretary General’s failed peace plan was hampered by a divided Security Council and he quit in frustration at the failure of a four-month-old truce.

The failure has led to widespread pessimism over Mr Brahimi’s chances of convincing the warring factions in Syria and their foreign supporters to negotiate a ceasefire.

Mr Brahimi told Channel 4 News: “If Kofi’s crazy then yes, I’m crazy. But I don’t think that Kofi is crazy and I don’t think I am.

“The resignation of Kofi was a highly political gesture in which he said: ‘You people who have asked me to try my hand at dealing with these problems are not supporting me enough.’

“And he is also telling the Syrians: ‘If you want us to help you, you need to be more aware of the problems that you have and of the necessity for compromise.’ That is a very important political act and I am taking over from there.”

Mr Brahimi added: “I am not sure that I will succeed, but I am sure that I will try as hard as Kofi tried. I’m not going into this certain of failure. I’m going into this with my eyes wide open.”

170,000 refugees flee Syria

With more than 18,000 dead and 170,000 refugees fleeing the country, many Syrians see no end to the clashes between rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

“They didn’t do anything, those UN observers couldn’t achieve anything and it will get worse,” one of the refugees, called Zehni, said in a camp in Turkey near the border. “As for Lakhdar Brahimi’s appointment, we don’t know yet what he will do but we hope he will achieve something.”

“Lakhdar Brahimi or someone else – it’s always the same, it will be like Annan. Annan has gone and Brahimi will also go,” said another refugee, Mohammad.

The refugee situation, devastating for families, is increasingly becoming unmanageable for emergency services trying to cope with the influx. Turkish authorities said they are sheltering 66,000 Syrian refugees and more than 170,000 refugees overall were registered in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

The Syrian government, meanwhile, said today that they expected rebel forces to be defeated soon. Fighting has been heavy in the main cities of Damascus and Aleppo. In an interview with Channel 4 News, Mr Brahimi conceded he did not know whether any kind of negotiation or cease fire was possible.

“We (the UN) are going to discuss very seriously how they can help,” Mr Brahimi said. “They are asking me to do this job. If they don’t support me, there is no job. They are divided, but surely they can unite on something like this and I hope they will.”

UN backing

The announcement about Brahimi was made as UN observers in Syria prepare to withdraw due to the violence.

“The Secretary-General appreciates Mr Brahimi’s willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects, the strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council,” said UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby back his appointment, del Buey said. Diplomats said all Security Council members support Mr Brahimi – whether that will be enough remains an unanswered question.