Envoy: Syrian Troops Intensify Mass Arrests

Posted May 8th, 2012 at 7:55 pm (UTC-5)
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International envoy Kofi Annan says that Syrian troops appear to be intensifying mass arrests and torture in rebellious communities.

Diplomats say Mr. Annan made the comments on Tuesday in a closed briefing to the U.N. Security Council via video conference from Geneva. He later told reporters that the United Nations cannot allow Syria to descend into civil war.

Mr. Annan said that since a shaky cease-fire went into effect last month, Syrian forces have reduced their bombardment of rebels and opposition strongholds. But he added that Syrian security forces continue to operate in and around centers of the 14-month opposition uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

An unarmed U.N. military mission is operating in Syria to monitor the compliance of government and rebel forces with the April 12 truce agreement. The plan calls for Syrian troops to leave civilian areas, but the government insists it is defending the public from “armed terrorists” whom it blames for the revolt.

Following Mr. Annan's briefing, Syria's U.N. ambassador said that some Arab countries are supporting and arming the Syrian opposition. Bashar Jafari said the Syrian government is committed to Mr. Annan's peace plan.

UN ambassador Susan Rice says the Syrian government has not implemented any of the six points outlined in the plan. She says the situation in Syria remains dire, especially for the millions who continue to endure daily attacks and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Syrian rights activists say government troops killed at least seven people in fighting around the country on Tuesday. Casualties could not be independently confirmed.

Syrian rebels also have staged regular attacks on Mr. Assad's forces since the truce took effect. The International Committee of the Red Cross said Tuesday that the rebels in recent weeks have shifted to guerrilla tactics against Mr. Assad's better-equipped forces.

In his briefing, Mr. Annan said his peace initiative is not open-ended and may be the “last chance” for Syria to avoid a civil war. About 60 U.N. military observers are deployed in Syria, with the contingent set to grow to 300 by the end of this month.

Speaking in Geneva, ICRC chief Jakob Kellenberger said the improved organization of the rebels means that recent battles in some parts of Syria meet the definition of a “non-international armed conflict,” or civil war.

He said his organization needs another $27 million to expand its aid efforts for Syrians affected by the country's 14-month conflict. The Red Cross already has been working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to provide monthly food parcels to 100,000 Syrians in particular need of assistance.

Kellenberger also said the Syrian government has granted permission for the ICRC to make its second visit to a Syrian prison to assess the treatment of detainees. He said Red Cross workers will meet detainees at Aleppo's central prison from May 14 to 23. The only other Red Cross prison visit authorized by Syria's government was an inspection of the Damascus central prison last September.

In other developments, the Syrian government said authorities were counting votes cast in Monday's parliamentary elections. Damascus hailed the vote as a major step toward political reform but opposition groups boycotted the contest, calling it a sham. Activists said few people voted in centers of the country's rebellion.

Syria's parliament is dominated by the Baath Party of President Assad, whose family has ruled the country since the 1970s.