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A United Nations team headed to Damascus to discuss deploying unarmed peacekeepers after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to an April 10 cease-fire that Western nations say they doubt he will respect.
The planning team from the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations was going to the Syrian capital “to discuss the modalities of the eventual deployment of a UN supervision and monitoring mission,” UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said yesterday in an e-mail.
After the first group of about six observers, the number would eventually rise to about 250, provided that the cease-fire takes effect, according to diplomats in New York briefed on the UN contingency plans who discussed the arrangements on condition of anonymity.
“All members think you cannot send monitors unarmed into a hot situation,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, the UN Security Council’s president this month, told reporters yesterday. First “we need cessation of violence and one that’s credible.”
Western nations and their Arab allies say they have seen little sign of restraint from Syrian forces since the April 2 announcement of a cessation. At least 58 people died in violence yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e- mailed statement today. This added to a death toll estimated by the UN at 9,000.
“We have been able to identify no withdrawal of mechanized units” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday after remarks in Moscow by Syria’s foreign minister that his country was complying with the plan offered by UN special envoy Kofi Annan. “We are going to judge this guy by his actions, not by his words,” she said.
Annan told the Security Council on April 2 that Assad had agreed by April 10 to halt advances by his troops, stop using heavy weapons and withdraw forces from population centers. Opposition groups say the fighting has continued unabated since Syria accepted the plan in principle on March 27.
The council will weigh “further steps” if Assad fails to respect the April 10 deadline, according to a draft statement obtained yesterday. In the statement, the council demands that the Syrian government “immediately implement its commitments” and provide an update of steps taken. The council says “in light of these reports” it will “consider further steps as appropriate.”
Syria buried 10 security personnel killed in fighting, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said today. The government also accused “armed terrorist groups” of killing four women and “a number of citizens” who were abducted, SANA said.
“If the government uses this window to intensify the violence, it would be most unfortunate,” Rice said. “Our view is that the Security Council would need to respond to that failure in a very urgent and serious way.”
The draft will be negotiated among council members through today, before adoption, she said.
The presence of UN peacekeeping monitors would require Assad’s permission and a Security Council resolution that Russia, an Assad ally, has the power to veto. It has twice blocked resolutions it considered biased toward the opposition.
Nuland said the U.S. has noticed greater cooperation from Russia. “We have been feeling convergence on the Security Council for some two weeks now,” she said, citing the council’s statement of support for Annan’s six-point plan.
The Arab League, which imposed economic sanctions on Assad, this year sent about 150 unarmed monitors on a monthlong mission to Syria, which failed to stop the violence.
This time, ensuring unfettered access to trouble spots and having weapons experts available could enhance the credibility of a mission, according to Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.
“There are lessons to be learned from the Arab League observer mission where they were intimidated by the environment and lacked experience,” Shaikh said in a telephone interview.
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