19 Apr 2012

Syria and United Nations agree deal on peace observers

Syria agrees on the terms of a ceasefire monitoring mission which will see more United Nations observers deployed.

The agreement forms the basis of a “protocol” on the deployment of more UN observers in Syria, according to a statement from the U.N. and Arab League mediator Kofi Annan, whose team is also holding discussions with the opposition. Syria’s Foreign Ministry called the deal a preliminary agreement to “facilitate the task of the observers within the framework of Syrian sovereignty.”

The expanded UN monitoring mission is expected to be initially composed of up to 300 unarmed observers to supervise the fragile, week-old ceasefire. In areas where the opposition has been strong, such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa, the army has kept up attacks on rebels.

After a year of revolt and bloodshed and an estimated 9,000 deaths, reaction to news of the agreement was cautious. Only a day before the agreement, Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon told the Security Council Syria had not fully withdrawn troops and heavy weapons from towns, failing to send a “clear signal” about its commitment to peace.

‘Friends of Syria’

Paris is hosting a meeting of foreign ministers from the international “Friends of Syria” coalition to discuss contingency plans for a potential unraveling of a UN-backed peace plan.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said an observer mission requires up to 400 people to oversee Syria properly – almost double the 250 observers Syria’s government considers reasonable.

“If it is not possible (to implement the plan) then we will look at what new measures need to be taken,” he said ahead of talks with delegations from 14 countries including the United States, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem has said he wants observers to come from countries such as China, Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa, which Damascus considers to be more sympathetic than the West or the Arab League. Denmark has already offered to send 10 and China is considering sending observers.

China considers observers

“Whether 250 observers is sufficient or not, this judgment needs to be made by the UN observer mission currently in Syria,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters. “Mr Annan will also make recommendations on this to the Security Council. We will also maintain contact and coordinate with other members of the Security Council.”

Russia boycotted the talks in France saying the “destructive” meeting could undermine Annan’s peace efforts, and Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich dismissed the need for UN aircraft.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the solution in Syria was to establish “humanitarian corridors” allowing the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad to survive.

“Bashar al-Assad is lying.” the French president told Europe 1 radio.”He wants to wipe Homs off the map just like (the former Libyan President) wanted to destroy Benghazi.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to hold a “Friends of Syria” group meeting in Paris later with European and Arab ministers from countries that have discussed support for opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

UK aid

It was also announced on Thursday that the UK would provide an additional £4m in aid for refugees displaced by the fighting in Syria. The UNHCR has estimated that more than 55,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the violence in Syria.