Turkey appeals to UN council for Syria safe zone
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Turkey appealed to a reluctant UN Security Council Thursday for a safe haven for thousands of Syrians facing a "humanitarian disaster" as Britain and France said they would rule out no options — including a no-fly zone — to aid residents fleeing an escalating civil war.
But Turkish leaders held out little hope for the endorsement of a deeply divided council that has been paralyzed on taking action to stop the 18-month uprising that has killed more than 20,000 people.
"How long are we going to sit and watch while an entire generation is being wiped out by random bombardment and deliberate mass targeting?" asked Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. "Let's not forget that if we do not act against such a crime against humanity happening in front of our eyes, we become accomplices to the crime."
Davutoglu, whose country is hosting more than 80,000 Syrian refugees, said he came to the council with hope that its members would take "long overdue steps" to help suffering people and establish camps inside Syria for those forced to flee their homes.
"Apparently, I was wrong about my expectations," he told the council. "This meeting will not even end with a presidential or press statement, let alone a robust resolution."
The path to the council's agreement on a safe zone for Syrians is fraught with obstacles, headed by the reluctance of Russia and China, Syria's most important allies. They have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions in the Security Council seeking to pressure President Bashar Assad's government with the threat of sanctions.
Moscow and Beijing were highly critical of the no-fly zone established by NATO to protect civilians during last year's Libyan revolt against longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, saying its enforcement went beyond the Security Council mandate. Western diplomats said enforcing the zone required taking out Libya's air defenses and attacking tanks and military vehicles that posed threats to civilians.
Russia and China, Syria's most important allies, have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions in the Security Council seeking to pressure Assad's government. They vehemently oppose any threat to Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity. In addition, Russia has a military base in Syria. There are also serious political differences among council members. While the U.S., its European allies and other members say Assad must go, Russia and China oppose any effort to replace him that doesn't have the support of the Syrian people.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari accused unnamed Security Council powers of "promoting imminent military intervention under humanitarian pretexts."
"It is clear that certain states do not see the issue of humanitarian aid any way other than as part of a biased political agenda," he said.
Before Thursday's meeting, Britain and France announced new funding for refugees and left open the possibility of more aggressive action, including a military-enforced no-fly zone to protect a safe area for those fleeing the war.
"We are not ruling out any options for the future," Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague told a news conference.
Hague said safe zones should remain an option, although he didn't say when they might be seriously considered.
"We do not know how this crisis will develop ... over the coming months. It is steadily getting worse," Hague said. "We are ruling nothing out, and we have contingency planning for a wide range of scenarios."
Britain and France are veto-wielding members of the Security Council as well as key NATO members. Asked whether the options would include a NATO-enforced no-fly zone, without Security Council authorization, Hague said, "We are not ruling out any options."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France and the United Kingdom's views are in "complete unity."
"All the possibilities are before us," he said when asked about the proposal by Turkey, also a NATO member. "We can't just say yes or no off the bat. We have to discuss it."
A U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the U.S. had consultations with Turkey on its safe zone proposal and the Americans, British and French are skeptical about the feasibility of NATO establishing such a zone, so "for the time being, nobody is there yet."
In his speech, the Turkish minister told the council that that the camps established for fleeing Syrians inside the country "should have full protection."
Davutoglu also called on the council to visit refugee camps in neighboring countries, to adopt a unified response to stop the indiscriminate bombing of residential areas, and to solve the issue of Syrians displaced from their homes and trapped within the country.
Davutoglu mentioned examples of "the cost of procrastination" including the 1995 Serb massacre in Bosnia of more than 8,000 Muslims taken from a U.N. enclave in Srebrenica and Saddam Hussein's gassing of 5,000 people in the Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988.
Referring to the council divisions, Davutoglu said the Cold War is over and it's time to put aside the mindset, "sterile power struggles and competition of interests" emanating from that era.
U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres warned the council against safe zones.
He praised Syria's neighbors for keeping their borders open to Syrians fleeing the war, and said their right to asylum "must not be jeopardized, for instance through the establishment of so-called 'safe havens' or other similar arrangements."
"Bitter experience has shown that it is rarely possible to provide effective protection and security in such areas," Guterres said.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin strongly criticized unilateral U.S. and European Union sanctions against Syria, saying they worsened the plight of the Syrian people, and he agreed with Guterres' skepticism about safe zones.
"He made it very clear he thought that history showed that they cannot be relied on as an effective tool for protecting civilians — that we must work together in order to help alleviate and improve the humanitarian situation for the entire population of Syria," Churkin said.
China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong, asked about the Turkish proposal by AP, said: "I think that's not a solution. The solution is to implement a cease-fire, cessation of violence, and implementation of a political process."
"Humanitarian efforts must never be militarized," Li told the council meeting.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson also cautioned that proposals for humanitarian corridors or buffer zones inside Syria "raise serious questions and require careful and critical consideration."
Eliasson said more than 2.5 million people — including Palestinian and Iraqi refugees — "are now in grave need of assistance and protection inside Syria," more than double the number reported in March. Guterres said as of Wednesday, 229,000 people had left Syria and registered as refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
He said the U.N. humanitarian appeal for Syria seeking $180 million is only half-funded.
"Donors should urgently rise to this humanitarian imperative," Eliasson said. "Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake."
Hague announced that Britain will contribute an additional 3 million pounds ($4.7 million), to the 27 million pounds ($42.7 million) it has already given for humanitarian aid to the displaced and to refugees. Fabius announced that France was giving 5 million Euros ($6.27 million) in addition to the $20 million Euros ($25 million) it has already contributed.
Fabius said the two countries also want to encourage Syrians to defect and Hague urged them to do it sooner rather than later to avoid possible future war crimes prosecution.
The ministers said Britain and France are also working on plans for a transition and for a post-Assad era.
Fabius said there is a clear message to the Syrian people: "Assad will fall but we won't drop you."
Associated Press writer Peter James Spielmann contributed to this report.