UN Monitors Visit Suburb of Syrian Capital

Posted April 23rd, 2012 at 6:40 am (UTC-5)
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A small group of U.N. observers in Syria is visiting the Damascus suburb of Zabadani in hopes of solidifying a tenuous cease-fire that has failed to end 13 months of conflict.

Neeraj Singh, a spokesman for the U.N.'s eight-member advance team in Syria, said the group will be joined by two additional observers on Monday.

Meanwhile, the European Union is set to ban the sale of luxury goods to Syria and dual-use items that could be used for repression. Diplomatic sources said the economic measures will be adopted at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg Monday.

The extent of the luxury ban has yet to be defined but the aim is to deliver a symbolic blow against the posh lifestyle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his British-born wife, Asma.

The dual-use goods can include anything from vehicles to fertilizers and other chemicals.

A total of 30 unarmed observers are expected in Syria in the coming days. This group could be followed by an expanded team of up to 300 monitors as part of a truce brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.

But it will be up to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to determine whether the situation is safe enough to deploy the 300 observers for an initial 90-day period.

This would be the first time the U.N. has sent an unarmed mission into a conflict zone, and Western diplomats warned the team will likely fail unless the Syrian government complies with the cease-fire.

A spokeswoman for the exiled opposition Syrian National Council said Sunday the expanded observer mission is not enough to protect people from government attacks. Basma Kodmani called for at least 3,000 monitors to be sent to Syria quickly.

Attacks by Syrian government and rebel forces killed at least 17 people across the country Sunday, including five soldiers who died when a roadside bomb struck their armored personnel carrier.

Two U.N. observers set up a base in the devastated flashpoint city of Homs Sunday after spending the night there. Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the continued presence of observers in Homs is deterring attacks by government forces.

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in the Syrian government's 13-month crackdown on dissent, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.