Syria: Caveat in cease-fire compliance

April 6, 2012 at 3:00 AM
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UNITED NATIONS, April 6 (UPI) -- Syria will not abide by a U.N.-backed cease-fire plan unless outside countries pledge in writing to stop aiding rebel fighters, Syria's U.N. ambassador said.

Bashar Jaafari told reporters at the United Nations that Syrian police were not covered by Syria's promised Tuesday regime-forces withdrawal, worked out with U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

"The deployment of the police is to protect the civilians," he said.

Syria's police, as well as its army, have killed thousands of civilians in the Assad regime's increasingly violent nearly 13-month effort to wipe out a pro-democracy movement, opposition activists allege. Assad blames the rebellion on "armed terrorists" supported by outside interests.

Concerning the pledge, Jaafari said getting "a crystal-cut commitment" in writing from the United States, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- countries he said supported the Free Syrian Army -- was "an integral part of the common understanding" between Damascus and Annan.

Damascus has promised to pull heavy weapons and armed forces back from cities and towns by Tuesday.

Before it honors the cease-fire plan, the Assad regime needs "a written commitment from everybody, including the imam of Saudi Arabia," that all outside "parties will do the same and not fill the vacuum," Jaafari said.

Annan made no mention of written guarantees in any public statement about his six-part peace plan. He also made no mention of Syrian police.

Annan, in Geneva, had no immediate comment on Jaafari's remarks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday at a "Friends of Syria" conference in Istanbul, Turkey, the Obama administration agreed to send satellite communications equipment to help Syrian rebels "organize, evade attacks by the regime and connect to the outside world."

The State Department had no immediate response to Jaafari's demand.

Jaafari's remarks came after a General Assembly meeting in which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syrian President Bashar Assad "to show vision and leadership" by keeping his pledge to pull troops and weapons from Syrian cities and towns by Tuesday's deadline.

He called on opposition fighters to show similar vision and leadership by laying down their arms 48 hours later -- terms worked out in Annan's peace plan.

Annan told the 193-member assembly the cease-fire deadline would be 6 a.m. Damascus time Tuesday (11 p.m. EDT Monday) for the regime and 6 a.m. Damascus time Thursday for the rebels.

"We must silence the tanks, helicopters, mortars and guns and stop all other forms of violence too -- sexual abuse, torture, executions, abductions, destruction of homes, forced displacement and other abuses, including on children," Annan said by videoconference from Geneva.

"I urge the government and the opposition commanders to issue clear instructions so that the message reaches across the country, down to the fighter and soldier at the local level," he said.

Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general, added, "Military operations in civilian population centers have not stopped" and "alarming levels of casualties and other abuses continue to be reported daily."

Activists reported at least 61 people were killed across the country Thursday.

Tanks shelled the Damascus suburb of Douma, the opposition Syrian Human Rights Observatory said. The use of heavy weapons was reported in the north, near Turkey, and in the western-central opposition stronghold city of Homs.

"Cities, towns and villages have been turned into war zones. The sources of violence are proliferating," Ban told the assembly.

"Humanitarian needs are growing dramatically. Over 1 million Syrians need humanitarian assistance inside the country. Tens of thousands are seeking refuge in neighboring countries, which have shown exceptional hospitality," he said.

The General Assembly met after the 15-nation Security Council unanimously adopted a non-binding "presidential statement" calling on the Assad regime to "urgently and visibly" honor its commitments to Tuesday's deadline "in their entirety" and warning of "further steps" if Damascus failed to live up to its commitments.

The statement called on "all parties, including the opposition, to cease armed violence in all its forms within 48 hours" of Syria's complete compliance with the cease-fire terms.

Also Thursday, a U.N. advance team -- led by Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, who headed the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization for Middle East peacekeeping from 2009 to 2011 -- arrived in Damascus to start preparations for an observer mission to monitor the cease-fire if it happens.

The mission of 200 to 250 unarmed observers would need unanimous U.N. Security Council consent before it could start.

It is expected to be dependent on the Syrian government for security, raising questions about its ability to operate independently, the Financial Times reported.

Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters Thursday the United Nations asked member states to contribute troops to monitor the cease-fire, if it took place.

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