UN team to enter Syria within 48 hours

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UN representatives are to go to Syria within two days for talks on a monitoring mission after Damascus agreed to start implementing a peace plan.

Ahmad Fawzi, a UN representative, said on Tuesday that the UN team would discuss “the modalities of the eventual deployment”.

“We have to plan as much as we can for the cessation of violence by all parties – there has to be a UN observer mission in place as soon as possible,” Mr Fawzi said.

Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy, said on Monday that Damascus had agreed to halt the use of heavy weapons in cities and withdraw troops from residential areas by April 10. Mr Annan said he hoped to bring about a UN-supervised ceasefire between the regime and its lightly armed opponents 48 hours after this.

British diplomats at the UN are drafting a mandate for the monitoring mission to Syria, which would then be presented to the UN Security Council. Although there are a number of ways of implementing UN monitoring missions, council approval is seen as important in the Syrian case if the mission is to have any credibility with the regime.

Richard Gowan, an expert on peacekeeping operations at New York University, said it would be crucial for the UN monitors to have freedom of movement and to have their own base and communications equipment, something the Arab League monitors lacked when they were sent to Syria late last year to monitor Damascus’s implementation of a short-lived Arab League initiative.

Even with a more muscular protocol however, the mission would probably only be effective as “an act of political symbolism, rather than a real deterrent,” Mr Gowan said.

There is scepticism about whether a ceasefire will even be implemented, let alone whether the proposed UN monitoring team – expected to consist of only 200-250 members – will have the mandate and capabilities to effectively monitor it.

Amid reports of continuing violence, Basma Kodmani, a member of the Syrian National Council, the main umbrella group for the Syrian opposition, said that while the SNC was not pre-judging the outcome of Mr Annan’s initiative, it was concerned at why such a delayed deadline had been given for the regime to withdraw its military.

“We really don’t understand the 10 days,” said Ms Kodmani. “It sounds like the regime is trying to finish the job they are doing.”

Eleven civilians were killed on Tuesday amid fighting in which the regime shelled rebel areas in the north-west and in the central city of Homs, according to the UK-based Syrian Human Rights Observatory. Seven soldiers were also killed, the Observatory said.

Mr Fawzi said that the representatives of the SNC and the Free Syrian Army – the name given to a very loosely affiliated collection of armed rebels – had been “very positive” about co-operating with the UN plan.

There are doubts however about whether the SNC or even the FSA has any leverage over the plethora of armed groups operating on the ground.

“Who orders the armed groups to pull out?” said Wissam Tarif, a researcher with the campaign group Avaaz, asking rhetorically: “Is it Burhan Ghalioun [head of the Syrian National Council]?”

Mr Annan’s six-point peace plan also calls for a daily two-hour pause in fighting to ensure humanitarian access. Jakob Kellenberger, the International Committee of the Red Cross chief, met the Syrian foreign minister on Tuesday to push for greater access to those in need in Syria, but it was not clear if anything was agreed.

In : World News

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