Syria says wants only small, ‘neutral’ truce missionReuters . Beijing
Syria said on Wednesday that a UN truce observer force would not need more than 250 monitors nor independent air support, challenging UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s assessment of what was needed for the operation.
The seven-day-old truce has held in some parts of Syria since president Bashar al-Assad pledged to enforce it last week, but in strong opposition areas such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa, the army continues to attack the rebels, using heavy weapons in violation of the pledge by Damascus to pull back.
The UN’s Ban says more monitors are needed for credible supervision of the truce in a country the size of Syria in the 13th month of a conflict marked by extreme violence and over 10,000 deaths.
Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem told a news conference in Beijing that the monitors should come from what he called ‘neutral’ countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all of which have been more sympathetic to Assad’s regime than the West and the Arab League states.
With the flashpoint cities in Syria scattered over several hundred kilometres, Ban said he has asked the European Union if it can supply helicopters and planes to make the proposed monitoring mission rapidly and independently mobile, but Moualem said Syria would supply air transport if necessary.
A political source in neighbouring Lebanon said Damascus has already refused the use of UN helicopters.
The West has shown no desire to intervene militarily or push for the sort of robust peacekeeping mission that might require 50,000 troops or more. Syria’s powerful friends on the Security Council, Russia and China, have made clear they would block a UN mandate to use force. They are likely to back Damascus as the terms of the mission are thrashed out later this week.
Assad says Syria is under attack by foreign-backed terrorist and that for their own safety, the unarmed observers would have to coordinate every step of their operation with Syrian security, to protect them from ‘armed gangs’.
The rebel Free Syrian Army fighting to topple Assad says it will stop shooting if he keeps his pledge to UN peace envoy Kofi Annan to withdraw tanks, heavy weapons and troops from urban areas, which critics say he clearly has not done since the truce took effect a week ago.
Army mortars have kept up their shelling of targets in Homs, the city at the heart of the revolt, and troops have swept towns and villages in raids to arrest suspected opponents of Assad. Activists say scores of people have been killed since the ceasefire officially came into force last Thursday.
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