UN Envoy Spokesman on Syria: When Observers Arrive Violence Stops

With the United Nations gearing up for an expanded peacekeeping operation in Syria in a bid to end the violence there, the spokesman for the UN’s envoy to the country said the advance team of observers is already making an impact. Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for Joint Special Envoy for Syria Kofi Annan, told The Mideast Update in an interview on Monday that the situation in Syria is “moving slowly but surely in the right direction,” including an increase in the number of UN monitors in the country.

However, media reports indicate the violence is ongoing, with claims of more government-led attacks. Also on Monday, the European Union approved additional sanctions on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the violence in the country.

Al Arabiya cited activists who said that neighborhoods in the city of Homs had been shelled by government forces, while sources told Al Arabiya that as many as 20 people had been killed on Monday when government forces fired upon protesters in another city, Hama.

The 13-month-old Syrian uprising and responding government crackdown has led to more than 9,000 dead and thousands more displaced. The Syrian regime has been accused of human rights abuses, torture and the killing of civilians, while they in turn have accused terrorist groups of instigating the violence.

UN Envoy Annan has proposed a six-point ceasefire plan for Syria that is centered on the withdrawal of Syrian troops from population centers. In addition, the plan calls for the cessation of violence by the regime and the opposition, as well as a political dialogue that can enable the Syrian people’s aspirations to be met.

An expanded UN observer mission for Syria of up to 300 unarmed military observers was approved by the UN Security Council on Saturday. The Council noted in their announcement that the cessation of armed violence in the country is “clearly incomplete.” The decision grants the larger UN Supervision Mission to Syria (UNSMIS) an initial 90-day term, with regular updates on their progress.

An advance UN observer team is already in Syria. It was expected to reach 10 members on Monday, with hopes to reach 30 advance observers within the next few days. Spokesman Fawzi noted that so far the small advance team has seen the benefits of its presence.

“The guns usually fall silent and the crowds magically appear by their side and surround them and say, ‘Please stay, because when you’re here the violence stops,’” said Fawzi.

Regime Claims Compliance

Expressing caution to try and present all sides of the volatile situation, Annan’s spokesman told The Mideast Update that based on reports they are receiving— from the advance UN monitors, the media and their own security updates—things are “moving towards a situation where the Syrian government is implementing the six-point plan. It’s taking them longer than we expected, but we’re seeing movement in that direction.”

Fawzi said that on Saturday Annan received a letter from the Syrian Foreign Minister claiming the government had implemented multiple elements of Annan’s plan that call for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers. “He informs the special envoy that that is now complete, and that their military operations have ceased,” said Fawzi of the Syrian letter.

“Of course we need to verify all this on the ground,” said Fawzi, noting that the observer team is doing that verification work “as much as they can.”

Said Fawzi, “We have a range of sources we depend on and they have assured us that they’ve withdrawn, so we’re going to double-check that. And we also see news reports, of course, that there’s shelling still going on and violence still going on, so we need to be very careful about our assessments of the situation.”

In addition to the Arab media reports of continued violence, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed on their Facebook page that six people were killed on Sunday, including three in a raid by forces searching for people wanted by the authorities.

On Saturday, United States Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice blasted the regime for failing to meet its obligations. Explaining the US support for expanding the observer mission, Rice said, “We are sober about the risks [of the mission], all the more so given the Assad regime’s long record of broken promises, deceit and disregard for the most basic standards of humanity.”

In comments released by her office, Rice on Saturday accused the Syrian regime of escalating the use of heavy weapons and shelling, particularly in Homs, saying it has “reached levels that surpass those before the ceasefire” that went into effect on April 12.

“No one should assume that the United States will agree to renew this mission at the end of 90 days,” said Rice. “If there is not a sustained cessation of violence, full freedom of movement for UN personnel and rapid meaningful progress on all other aspects of the six-point plan, then we must all conclude that this mission has run its course. We will not wait 90 days to pursue measures against the Syrian government, if it continues to violate its commitments or obstruct the monitors’ work.”

Prepping for Peacekeeping

Fawzi said the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is “already cranking up the necessary plans for a quick and expeditious deployment” for the expanded Syria observer mission, once UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gives the go-ahead. The team will need to prepare adequate transport and equipment, in addition to personnel.

In the meantime, Fawzi said Annan is “constantly working the phones and meeting” with representatives of nations “with influence on the situation” on both sides of the Syrian conflict.

He is also “in constant touch” with the Syrian government and the opposition, particularly in helping the opposition to create a representative negotiating delegation for talks with the regime.

Annan’s team is “working around the clock to enable the beginning of a political dialogue, which he has said is imperative if this crisis is to move out of the violence mode into the talking mode,” said Fawzi.

Looking ahead to the upcoming observer mission, Fawzi expressed hope for the team’s success. “My realistic assessment is—yes, we do hope the monitors will make a difference,” said Fawzi. “In fact they have made a difference wherever they go… So Mr. Annan expects that the presence of observers will change the political dynamics on the ground and help to create that environment that is conducive to a political dialogue.”

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, April 22, 2012)