Annan Urges ‘Bold Steps’ on Syria, West Expels Envoys

Posted May 29th, 2012 at 10:20 am (UTC-5)
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With deaths mounting and the West expelling Syrian diplomats, international peace envoy Kofi Annan told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that the U.N.'s six-point peace plan “cannot succeed without bold steps to stop the violence.”

According to a U.N. spokesman, Mr. Annan in Damascus conveyed to Mr. Assad the international community's concern about the bloodshed, including last week's massacre in Houla that killed more than 100 men, women and children.

The U.N. human rights office in Geneva said Tuesday that U.N. monitors found that fewer than 20 of those killed in Houla were struck by artillery and tank fire. It said witnesses told the observers that most victims were killed in their homes in two waves of summary executions by pro-government militiamen.

In response to the massacre, several nations have asked Syrian diplomats to leave.

French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday he is expelling the Syrian ambassador in Paris in response to the massacre. Australia expelled two Syrian diplomats in a similar protest. Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain have announced that they too will expel Syrian diplomats.

The Syrian government denies any role in the Houla killings and blames them on “armed terrorists” whom it accuses of driving a 15-month revolt against Mr. Assad.

U.N. observers continue to investigate last week's massacre. U.N. spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh told VOA U.N. observers have remained in Houla since Saturday and have been talking to residents.

On Tuesday, Syrian rights activists said at least 19 people were killed across Syria in new attacks related to the uprising.

Mr. Annan mediated a cease-fire between government and rebel forces last month but it has failed to hold.

The special envoy also met with Syrian tribal leaders Tuesday. Sheik Walid al-Sahu of Syria's al-Roqeibat tribe told reporters that Syria is becoming more unstable.

“The implementation of his plan does not exist on the ground. We are witnessing more explosions and kidnappings.”

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad said Tuesday after meeting Mr. Annan that Syria has not committed a “single violation” of the cease-fire.

“We offered all that was necessary for the members of the [U.N.] mission to accomplish their job without any obstacles. The most important thing to be mentioned is that Syria, during this time, has not committed a single violation of Annan's plan nor the preliminary understanding signed between Syria and the United Nations.”

The chairman of the U,S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, warned on Monday that “atrocities” such as the Houla killings could trigger international military intervention. But, he added the international community should first put greater diplomatic pressure on Mr. Assad.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday certain countries are starting to use the Houla massacre as a “pretext for putting forward demands for the necessity of taking military action.”

“Certain countries, as if the Security Council hadn't made a request for such an investigation, are starting to use these events, the events of May 25 [the Houla mass killings], as a pretext for putting forward demands for the necessity of taking military action, trying to put pressure on the U.N. Security Council.”

The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed in Syria since the government began its crackdown on dissent in March 2011.