Tuesday, 17 April 2012 00:00
UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved an advance of up to 30 unarmed military observers to Syria, marking another important step by the international community to bring peace and stability to Syria, after the good offices of international envoy Kofi Annan successfully mediated a ceasefire between government forces and opposition fighters.
The approval was contained in a resolution unanimously adopted by the 15-nation UN body, the first legally binding UN document since the outbreak of the crisis in the Middle East country in March 2011. The advance team is an initial part of the UN supervision mission in Syria which will reach some 250 observers to monitor the ceasefire.
The new UN move is conducive to consolidating the peace efforts by Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League joint special envoy for Syria, which includes ceasefire on the ground in order to pave the way for the political solution to the Syrian crisis.
The truce, which formally took effect in Syria on Thursday, is at the center of a peace plan negotiated by Annan.
"The relative de-escalation of violence achieved on 12 April was a tentative and positive first step towards ending the crisis," British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said at the Security Council in explaining his government's stance on Syria. "But it is just that -- a first step."
"This is only the beginning of a long road towards reconciling and towards building the future that Syrians aspire to, where there are no detentions without cause, where law enforcement guarantees peace and security in the street -- not the military," Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
Annan was appointed in February to mediate peace in Syria on behalf of the United Nations and Arab League. Thanks to his diplomatic influence and painstaking efforts, Annan received wide international support for his peace endeavors. As a result, Damascus accepted Annan's six-point plan and ceasefire deadlines.
Annan's six-point plan, widely backed by the international community, calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, a daily halt in fighting for the delivery of humanitarian aid and treatment for the wounded, as well as talks between the government and opposition.
The Syrian government has accepted Annan's six-point plan and the April 10 deadline to put an early end to the year-long crisis in Syria.
The new UN resolution gave a green light to the establishment of the UN supervision in Syria, including its advance team, which many council members say is facing grave challenges in carrying out their mandates.
The challenges include how the UN mission will perform in Syria and whether the Syrian government and the armed opposition would honor a sustained peace.
"The observers, which will include one Russian officer, are facing a difficult challenge," Vitaly Churkin, the Russian permanent representative to the United Nations, said at the council after the vote. "They will need a high degree of professionalism, courage, and objectivity."
"We need to guard against any attempt to create difficulties or trouble for Mr. Annan's mediation," Li Baodong, the Chinese permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council after his vote. "Any words or deeds that stand in the way of Mr. Annan's mediation efforts are unacceptable, and must be opposed."
For his part, Indian UN Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said, "We hope that all parties, including the opposition, will implement their commitment and cooperate with the mission. It is also necessary that the mission carries out its work impartially, fairly and independently with due respect for Syria's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity."
Meanwhile, Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters that before any observers can be deployed, there would have to be a technical agreement on how the UN force will operate, Annan would have to make an independent report on the situation in Syria, and the Syrian government would have to approve the whole package.
The full UN mission in Syria would reach 250 observers, Fawzi said, and as is common on such missions, Syria would have ultimate approval over the nationalities involved.
The new UN resolution was adopted after Annan's spokesman described the ceasefire as "relatively respected."
In Syria on Saturday, sporadic mortar shells from the government forces again struck Homs, reports said, but over all, the internationally backed cease-fire appeared to be holding.
"Special Envoy Kofi Annan's mediation is the practical way out and an important channel for the political settlement of the Syrian crisis," the Chinese UN ambassador said. "We urge all parties in Syria to take real actions to support and cooperate with Mr. Annan in his mediation, and maintain the process of political solution to the Syrian issue."
"We are hoping these isolated incidents will not provoke full- scale hostilities," said Fawzi. "This is the time for restraint on both sides. We need those observers on the ground as soon as possible."
Meanwhile, French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said that the newfound unity of the council may not be permanent. "Our consensus is fragile," he said.
Russia and China, the veto-wielding two permanent council members, have blocked two draft resolutions at the UN body which would push for a "regime change" in Syria.
Ja'afari, while speaking at the Security Council, reiterated his government's full commitment to Annan's peace plan and ceasefire. But he blamed some council members for turning a blind eye to what he said "the grave human rights violations perpetrated by armed groups in Syria."
"What we find puzzling here is that some of those who claim to care for human rights have paid no attention to information submitted by numerous international bodies other than the Syrian government about the grave human rights violations perpetrated by armed groups in Syria," he said. "These include kidnapping and holding of hostages, and demanding of ransoms as well as torturing and executing members of the police forces and the army and civilians who are regarded as supporters of the government."
"Moreover, armed groups in Syria are recruiting children as soldiers and using civilians as human shields," he said.
"What worries us in this context is the ill intentions of some member states on the council with regard to Syria and that that they deliberately do not hold armed gangs accountable for their crimes and for their aggression against Syrian civilians and military personnel," he said.
The new UN resolution calls on the Syrian government to allow "unobstructed communications" for the mission, including its advance team, and allow it to "freely and privately communicate with individuals throughout Syria without retaliation against any person as a result of interaction with the mission."
The Security Council "calls upon the parties to guarantee the safety of the advance team without prejudice to its freedom of movement and access, and stresses that the primary responsibility in this regard lies with the Syrian authorities," the resolution said.
The Security Council "requests the secretary-general to report immediately to the Security Council any obstruction to the effective operation with the Syrian authorities," the resolution said, expressing "its intention to assess the implementation of this resolution and to consider further steps as appropriate."
"Syria has expressed its hope that Mr. Annan would deal with the crisis in a comprehensive manner," Ja'afari said. "It affirms that in return for the official Syrian commitment to guarantee the success of the mission then Mr. Annan must also hold the necessary contact with the different Arab, regional and international parties that have ties with the armed groups in order to guarantee that they abide by the cessation of violence."
"The mission of Mr. Annan cannot be guaranteed success just through official Syria support, rather these states must abide by holding and halting the funding and arming and training of armed groups as well as refrain from encouraging them to continue their terrorist actions and to stop providing safe havens to the members of these armed groups," he said. "These countries must also stop escalating and encouraging the Syrian opposition to reject any initiative to launch a comprehensive national dialogue in order to arrive at a peaceful political resolution to the crisis in Syria."
Another resolution will be required before the full complement of 250 observers could be sent, but diplomats said it would basically echo the resolution approved Saturday. The Security Council requested that the United Nations secretary- general make a formal request for a full monitoring mission in Syria by April 19.
"That is why this Council has authorized the deployment of an advance mission to monitor the cessation of violence," Lyall Grant said. "And why, if it is sustained, we will work quickly to authorize a larger mission to monitor the cessation of violence and support the full implementation of the Mr. Annan's six-point proposal."
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