Russia urged Syria to accelerate a troop pullout scheduled to be completed today under a United Nations plan, as the Middle Eastern state demanded guarantees about the opposition’s commitment to the peace efforts.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government needs to be “more active” in complying with the conditions of the accord brokered by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters today after talks in Moscow with his Syrian counterpart, Walid Al-Muallem.
“We demand from our Syrian colleagues to rigorously implement the Annan plan,” Lavrov said. Muallem said the authorities had started a troop pullback from some areas.
Syrian opposition groups must also accept an immediate cease-fire, Lavrov said, adding that many Assad opponents hadn’t endorsed the peace plan negotiated by Annan. Russia, an ally of Syria, where it maintains a naval base and sells weapons, is endorsing international efforts to end the violence after twice vetoing UN resolutions condemning Assad for the crackdown on an uprising since March 2011.
Muallem said Syria wanted assurances from Annan about the opposition’s implementation of his plan, denying that his country had demanded written pledges from Assad opponents or regional countries supporting them.
“We didn’t ask Annan to provide written guarantees from terrorist groups and their regional supporters,” al-Muallem said. “We asked him to communicate with them and inform us of the results of these contacts.”
Violence in Syria spilled across borders into Turkey and Lebanon yesterday, a day before Annan’s deadline for Syria to pull back army units and heavy weaponry from populated areas. Security forces killed 160 people in Syria yesterday and fighting took place today in Damascus suburbs, Daraa, Deir Ezzor, Aleppo and Homs, according to the Local Coordination Committees. A Lebanese cameraman was killed in a car near a border crossing yesterday and two Syrian civilians who sought refuge in Turkey were injured by gunfire from Syria.
The Annan plan calls for a complete cease-fire within 48 hours from today.
The Syrian government on April 8 demanded written guarantees by what it called armed terrorist gangs before it withdraws troops from residential areas in line with the accord. The commander of the Syrian Free Army, Riad al-Asaad, who is leading the forces opposed to the government, said he’s committed to the UN plan to end the crisis in Syria and wouldn’t provide the regime with guarantees.
Lavrov and Muallem said that a cease-fire will require the presence of international observers, which are due to be deployed under the UN initiative.
The Russian foreign minister said Syria is demonstrating a commitment to the Annan plan, which required only a “visible” troop withdrawal from residential areas by today as opposed to a complete pullback. He said he’d speak later today with Annan, a former UN secretary-general, to discuss the way forward.
Annan will report to the UN Security Council about developments in Syria in a letter today, according to his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi.
The letter “will report on developments since his last briefing to the council,” Fawzi said in an e-mail from Geneva today, adding that Annan will brief the council again on April 12.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said today there was “no evidence so far that the Assad regime has any intention of adhering to any agreement it makes.” While Britain continues to support Annan’s efforts, it will intensify support for the Syrian opposition and seek to get Syria’s leadership referred to the International Criminal Court if the peace initiative fails, Hague said in an e-mailed statement.
Annan said April 5 that Syria had informed him that the withdrawal of its troops from populated areas would be completed on April 10, adding that Syrian government troops and opposition forces should cease all violence by April 12.
The conflict in Syria, now in its second year, has left more than 9,000 people dead by UN estimates and turned the country into a battleground between Sunni Muslim-led Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran. Syria’s borders with Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey have raised the stakes for governments across the region.
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