UN Sending Truce Observers to Syria

Posted April 14th, 2012 at 3:00 pm (UTC-5)
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The U.N. Security Council has voted to send an advance team of observers to Syria, where reports of violence have climbed in spite of a shaky cease-fire between government and opposition forces.

In a unanimous vote Saturday, the Security Council authorized deployment of an advance team of up to 30 unarmed military observers. The monitors are expected to depart for Syria within days.

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

Syria said its forces would observe the cease-fire that went into effect at dawn Thursday, but both sides contend attacks have continued.

Bassam Imadi, of the opposition Syrian National Council, says 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 imporant report that will prove that the Syrian authorities are not stopping fire.”

Rights groups say at least 11 people were killed in unrest in Syria on Saturday. Four died in Aleppo when security forces opened fire on a funeral procession.

Activists also say government shelling in Homs killed at least one person. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, said the attack in Homs was “absolutely” a cease-fire violation.

Rebel fighters also appear 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.

Shortly after the U.N. vote, British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said a “narrow window now exists to improve the situation on the ground” in Syria.

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.

Mr. Annan and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement and expressed concern about addressing humanitarian needs in Syria. They commented in a joint statement after meeting in Geneva on Saturday.

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.