Last updated: 12 April, 2012

Ceasefire in Syria put to the test

Peace envoy Kofi Annan said a ceasefire in Syria appeared to be holding on its first day Thursday, as world powers called for swift action to send in UN observers to monitor the fragile truce.

“I am encouraged by reports that the situation in Syria is relatively calm and that the cessation of hostilities appears to be holding,” the UN-Arab League envoy said in a statement released as he briefed the Security Council.

But as the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels traded accusations of trying to wreck the ceasefire, Annan insisted that “all parties have obligations to implement fully the six-point plan.”

“What has happened today does not constitute full compliance by the Syrian government,” Annan was quoted as saying. “Syrian troops and armour must return to their barracks immediately.”

After 13 months of war, which activists say has claimed more than 10,000 lives since March 2011, Annan said the UN Security Council must demand that troops be pulled out of cities.

Despite the regime’s commitment to pull back, the spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), Basma Qoudmani, said “we have concrete proof that heavy weapons are still in population centres.”

And the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that by mid-afternoon it had not seen any troop withdrawals.

World powers said the tentative truce in Syria was a “fragile” first step and joined the calls for Damascus to carry out a broader peace plan and permit international observers to monitor it.

In a statement, the Group of Eight major economies, which include Western powers and Syria’s main supporter Russia, urged “immediate” action to send observers to monitor a ceasefire in the violence-hit country.

After talks in Washington, they said they remained “gravely concerned” about the “appalling loss of life.”

Some Western nations proposed that a UN Security Council resolution on a Syria ceasefire observer mission should warn of potential action if the government does not withdraw troops from cities.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said plans were being drawn up to send observers to Syria, starting with the dispatch of a UN peacekeeping general as early as Friday.

An advanced mission of 20-30 observers could be in place early next week, diplomats said. The full mission would be at least 200 monitors.

Ban said “the world is watching however with sceptical eyes,” adding that previous promises made by the regime “have not been kept.”

According to a copy of the UN draft resolution obtained by AFP, it includes demands that Assad “visibly” implement his commitment to withdraw troops and guns from population centers.

And it adds that if the Syrian government does not implement its commitments, the council would “consider further measures as appropriate.”

Long-time Syrian ally Russia said the Security Council could pass the text as early as Friday.

For protesters though, the first real test of the government’s commitment will be to allow peaceful demonstrations.

“The real test will be if there is shooting or not when people demonstrate,” SNC spokeswoman Qoudmani said.

But the interior ministry insists people wanting to demonstrate must have permits.

Renewed bloodshed on Thursday killed at least eight people, including seven civilians, and wounded dozens more, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Even so, the toll is markedly lower than it has been in recent weeks, when there have often been scores of people killed.

The interior ministry urged tens of thousands of people who fled the violence both inside and outside the country to return home and offered an amnesty to opposition gunmen without “blood on their hands.”

The rebel Free Syrian Army, for its part, insisted it was sticking to the ceasefire.

“The regime is being elusive. We are 100 percent committed to the ceasefire, but the regime is not abiding by it,” FSA spokesman Colonel Kassem Saadeddine told AFP by Internet.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said meanwhile that France has “elements of evidence” that crimes against humanity have been committed by the Syrian regime.

“France has gathered a certain number of elements of evidence which would enable us if the time comes, notably at the UN, to take it before the international courts, because crimes against humanity have been committed,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the G8 talks.