UN to close Syria observer mission
The United Nations has ordered the end of its observer mission in Syria and is set to
withdraw its staff within the next few days.
Edmond Mulet of the UN peace-keeping department, told newsmen that the mission would "come to an end" at midnight on Sunday.
France's Ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud confirmed the decision saying: "The conditions to continue UNSMIS were not fulfilled," referring to the mission by its acronym.
Earlier this year, the United Nations authorised the deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers in Syria, to monitor a ceasefire that UN-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan negotiated with president Bashar al-Assad.
But hostilities have only worsened since then, and the UN mission suspended its patrols on June 15, leaving the observers largely confined to their hotels.
As of Thursday, the number had been cut to 101 observers and 72 civilian staff. Mulet said the last observers would leave Damascus on Friday next week.
In July, Annan announced that he was stepping down as special envoy to Syria at the end of August, citing divisions and deadlock within the UN Security Council and increasing militarisation of the Syrian conflict.
The high point of Annan's assignment was the adoption by the Security Council of a six point peace plan to end the Syrian crisis.
The 6-Point Plan
- Syria commits to work with Mr Annan "in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people."
- Syria commits to stop fighting and immediately stop troop movements and use of heavy weapons in populated areas. As these actions are being taken, Syria should work with Mr Annan to end all violence, under UN supervision. Mr Annan will seek similar commitments from the opposition to stop all fighting.
- Syria accepts and implements a daily two hour "humanitarian pause" to deliver aid and evacuate the injured.
- Syria commits to intensify "the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons" and provide a list of all places where such people are being held.
- Syria commits to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists "and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them."
- Syria commits to "respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed."
New envoy named
On Thursday, veteran Algerian diplomat, Lakhdar Brahimi, was confirmed as replacement for Kofi Annan, but with an altered mandate.
No date has been fixed for the official announcement. In the meantime, the 17 month old conflict slips deeper into civil war.
Brahimi, who has previously served in Afghanistan and Iraq, is an Arab Muslim who knows the Middle East inside out; not through the narrow prism of the UN, but from hands-on experience of having lived and worked with Arabs for his entire career.
He has dealt with every Syrian administration from Nour Al Din Al Atasi to Bashar Al Assad. His positions took him often to Damascus. His last visit was as part of the Elder's Delegation in October 2010. In 1989, he worked with the Syrians to hammer out the Taif Accords to put an end to Lebanon's civil war.
The UN Security Council did back a plan by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to start a political liaison office in Damascus to monitor events.
Mulet told reporters it would probably be between 20 and 30 people, with political, humanitarian and military experts taking part. He added that Assad had approved setting up the office.
The Russian ambassador at the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said an action group will meet on Friday to call for an end to the violence.
Russia did not want to wind down the monitoring mission.
"We believe those members of the council who insist the UNSMIS can't continue did not really show a commitment to ending hostilities." Churkin said.