UN Monitors Arrive In Syria As Assad's Troops Continue Shelling Homs

  on April 16 2012 11:06 AM
Bashar Ja'afari, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations
Ja'afari tells the media after UN Security Council that the Syrian government is "on board" with UN resolution and that armed gangs and terrorists are what pose the real threat to Syrian peace. Reuters

A team of thirty unarmed military observers, sent by the United Nations on a peacekeeping mission to Syria, arrived in the unstable country late Sunday night to monitor the ceasefire situation on the ground as President Bashar al-Assad's troops continued to shell Homs. 

The Syrian government agreed to a ceasefire plan, drafted by special UN envoy to Syria Kofi Annan that required an end to all fighting by Thursday of last week. However, since then shelling has continued - especially in the city of Homs. It is estimated that at least 20 people have been killed by Syrian security forces since the cease-fire went into effect.

Furthermore, Assad, in fear of losing control of the country, has yet to pull troops out of many urban areas -- a key condition of Annan's ceasefire plan. 

In response, the UN Security Council -- amidst growing doubts over the Syrian government's commitment to the peace plan -- unanimously passed a resolution on Saturday authorizing an advance team to monitor the ceasefire in Syria. The approved team of 30 observers were sent to Syria, as the new resolution states, to liaise with the parties and to begin to report on the implementation of a full cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties. 

Despite unanimity for the resolution, the Permanent Syrian Representative to the UN Bashar Ja'afari, told the Security Council that it is not the Syrian government that the UN should worry about -- instead, he claimed that terrorist groups and armed gangs pose the greatest threat to the country's stability.

He said in a statement that the Syrian government was fully on board with Annan's six-point [plan], provided that other groups [referring to armed gangs and any country supporting the gangs] do the same. He then added that he was alarmed by the provocative, unpleasant, and irresponsible language used by many ambassadors during the meeting, when they used the term 'regime' while talking about the Syrian government. 

According to a UN press release, Ja'afari assured the council that Syria would spare no effort to ensure the success of Annan's mission and end the crisis. However, he added that he could not speak for the armed gangs and terrorist groups that he claims are responsible for much of the continued fighting.

The press release also said: Ja'afari said he found it 'puzzling,' that those who claimed to care about human rights did not care about violations committed by armed gangs, including kidnapping, torture, recruitment of child soldiers and the use of civilians as human shields.  Accounts of such atrocities had been documented, and Mr. Annan must obtain guarantees from the armed gangs that they would abide by his plan. 

However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon already did this when he appealed to not only the Syrian government, but also to all opposition groups to end all violence.

Ban recently told the media that he welcomes the Security Council's recent and unanimous action and is certain that this international engagement and attention will help to stop Syria's steady descent into chaos.

But speaking to reporters in Brussels, he warned Syria that it should by no means impede the efforts and movements of the UN peacekeeping team.

It is the Syrian government's responsibility to guarantee freedom of access, freedom of movement within the country, he said. They should be allowed to freely move to any places where they will be able to observe this cessation of violence.

The Syrian government said it could not be responsible for the safety of the UN observers. Ja'afari reminded the Security Council that the mission must act within the limits of Syrian sovereignty, which, he added, represented a red line that cannot be crossed under any condition 

If further negotiations with Syria go as planned, the UN intends to increase the number of military observers in Syria to 250 in the next week.

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