Last updated: 26 June, 2012

UN mission in Syria to stay suspended

The United Nations mission in Syria will remain suspended because conflict between government and opposition forces is intensifying, a top UN official told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

And UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has still not secured agreement on a political transition plan that all the major powers can back so that an international meeting on the conflict can go ahead this week, diplomats said.

Herve Ladsous, UN peacekeeping chief, said civilians in Syria face “increasing danger” and “conditions are not conducive to resume operations,” diplomats at a closed Security Council meeting on the conflict said.

The almost 300 unarmed UN monitors halted operations on June 16 as President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown against opposition groups intensified.

Ladsous said the UN mission was still trying to help humanitarian workers. But he added that the Syrian government was throwing up obstacles such as refusing to allow satellite telephones, which the UN official said were “key tools.”

The UN is working on options for the mission when its mandate ends on July 20. Diplomats expect the mission to be cut back to a mainly civilian operation.

Annan’s deputy envoy, Nasser al-Qudwa, told the council there were “massive” rights violations in Syria with more civilians being killed each day and growing attacks on government forces by opposition fighters, the diplomats reported.

With Syrian activists now estimating more than 15,000 people have died in the 15-month old conflict, France demanded at the meeting that UN rights chief Navi Pillay brief the Security Council on Syria to keep up pressure on Assad.

Qudwa said foreign ministers from the major powers and other key countries around Syria could meet in Geneva on Saturday to discuss political efforts to implement Annan’s floundering six-point peace plan.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accepted an invitation to Saturday’s Geneva meeting, the country’s UN envoy said. But diplomats added there is not yet an accord on a political plan so that Annan can officially convene the meeting.

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin indicated that western countries were more reluctant to attend. “They were not yet prepared to say they are going to participate because they believe that there must be more clarity about the outcome — I think this is playing it a little bit too hard to get,” Churkin told reporters.

Because of the “grim” situation in Syria “we need to work even harder,” said Churkin who added that the meeting should “provide a powerful impetus for political efforts to put an end to the conflict in Syria.”

The United States, Britain, France and China — the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council — have not yet said whether they will attend the Geneva meeting.

The main powers have been in intensive consultations in recent days on a political plan for Syria that would tempt Assad into talks on his future.

Qudwa said the Geneva meeting should identify measures to secure implementation of Annan’s peace plan and agree on guidelines for a political transition.

Because of the growing death toll, the Geneva meeting must not be a “talking shop” which is why the key states must agree on the guidelines, Qudwa was quoted as saying.

He added that a decision on whether to hold the meeting depended on “agreement on the scope of participation and an intention to reach an outcome,” Council diplomats said.

Annan has said he wants key states that can influence Syria, as well as the main powers, at the Geneva meeting. Annan and UN leader Ban Ki-moon have both spoken in favor of Iran taking part. The United States opposes Iranian involvement.