UN Authorizes Observer Mission for Syria

Posted April 14th, 2012 at 5:30 pm (UTC-5)
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China and Russia joined the rest of the United Nations Security Council Saturday to authorize deployment of an advance team of observers to Syria to monitor a fragile cease-fire between the government and armed opposition forces.

In a unanimous vote Saturday, the Security Council approved a resolution that gives the go ahead for a small group of up to 30 unarmed military monitors to be deployed to Syria, where the shaky truce held Saturday despite reports of government shelling in the flashpoint city of Homs.

The monitors are to report on implementation of a peace plan, brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, that calls for troop withdrawals from urban areas, for the Damascus government to end its violent crackdown on dissent, and for an end to hostilities by opposition rebels.

In a statement Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated that “it is the government of Syria which has the primary responsibility to stop the violence and withdraw its forces.” He also announced that the U.N. will host a meeting in Geneva on April 20 to discuss dealing with at least 1 million people displaced inside Syria and in neighboring countries.

Britain's ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, noted that Resolution 2042 is clear about the commitments both the Syrian government and the opposition must fulfill. He said 25 monitors have been identified and could begin arriving in Syria within 24 hours now that their mission has been authorized.

But U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice cautioned their deployment would be a test to see if it is possible to send a larger observer mission to Syria, once the secretary-general presents a blueprint and if its clear the truce is holding and Damascus is cooperating.

Mr. Ban has until Wednesday to present the council with his recommendations for a full monitoring mission.

Russia, a strong supporter of Syria, said the peace plan was at a “critical juncture.” Ambassador Vitaly Churkin urged both sides to refrain from violence.

Bassam Imadi, of the opposition Syrian National Council, said international monitors can determine the source of the latest bloodshed — in his view, President Bashar al-Assad and his government.

“It will mean that those observers that are going to go to Syria to monitor the situation are going to get a very important report that will prove that the Syrian authorities are not stopping fire.”

Meanwhile, rights groups and activists said at least 11 people were killed by government troops across Syria Saturday. They said rebel fighters also appeared to be ignoring the truce in some areas. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported two government soldiers were killed in a rebel attack in the southern Dara'a province. The government repeated its claim Saturday that “armed terrorists” are responsible for such attacks, and said they also have led to civilian casualties.

The Syrian government had said it would respect the cease-fire but would respond to attacks by armed militants. A report Saturday by state-run media blamed “an escalation of terrorist groups” for rising military and civilian deaths.

The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria's unrest over the past year.