REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to end the crackdown against a 10-month-old uprising that has left thousands dead. Ban's strong comments on Sunday came as Assad offered amnesty to protesters and army deserters involved in the rebellion.
"Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: Stop the violence," Ban said at a democracy conference for the Arab world in Beirut. "Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end."
U.N. officials estimate that more than 5,000 people have died in a government crackdown since mid-March, when protests inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt erupted in Syria. Syrian authorities say 2,000 police and security forces have been killed by foreign-backed Islamist terrorist groups trying to ignite sectarian strife.
Moon said the protests against Assad were not likely to abate: "The winds of change will not cease to blow. The flame ignited in Tunisia will not be dimmed," he said.
He added: "The old way, the old order, is crumbling. One-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms .... To all of this, the people say: Enough."
Meanwhile in Damascus, the official SANA news agency reported that Assad had ordered a "general amnesty" for "crimes committed in the context of the events taking place since March 15, 2011, till the date of issuing the decree."
It was not immediately clear how many detainees would be released as a result of the amnesty and when they would be freed. The report said the order covers those who have participated in peaceful demonstrations or carried unlicensed weapons, as well as army defectors on the condition that they turn themselves in to Syrian authorities before Jan. 31.
It was Assad's third amnesty offer in the last 10 months. Activists remain skeptical and claim few detainees have been freed after earlier orders. No lists with names of released detainees appear to have have been published. Assad, who succeeded his late father Hafez in 2000, has also vowed to hold parliamentary elections under new constitutional principles later this year.
"Each previous offer has resulted in the release of a few hundred only, while thousands more have been arrested," said U.S.-based Syrian opposition activist and blogger Ammar Abdulhamid. "Assad gives little with one hand, takes much more with the other. His words are always designed to deceive and his actions always designed to repress and reestablish control."
Syrian activists said 23 people were killed across Syria on Sunday, including 10 in Idlib province, 10 in Homs, two in a Damascus suburb, and one in the mainly Kurdish town of Amouda, where a military recruit was shot by pro-government militia.
The Local Coordination Committees in Syria said nine people were killed in Idlib when their bus was targeted by security forces. According to SANA, six workers in a textile factory in Idlib were killed and 16 others injured when a roadside bomb that it said was planted by "terrorists" exploded as the bus passed.
Violence continues to rage in Syria despite the recent arrival of Arab League monitors. Fears are mounting that Syria may be sliding toward civil war as clashes grow between army defectors and regime troops. Former Arab League chief and Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa said Sunday that the league should consider sending Arab troops into Syria to halt the violence. HIs comments echoed those made by the Qatari emir in an interview with "60 Minutes."
"This is a very important proposal," Moussa said in Beirut on the sidelines of the U.N. democracy conference. "The Arab League should begin to study this possibility and begin consultations on this issue."
-- Alexandra Sandels
Photo: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the opening session of a conference on democracy in the Arab world in Beirut, demanded Sunday that Syria's president stop killing his own people. Credit: Hussein Malla / Associated Press