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Qatar asks U.N. to help monitors in Syria

January 5, 2012 |  7:15 pm

An Arab League observer in Dara province, Syria.

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Qatar's prime minister says he has asked for help from the United Nations  for the Arab League’s observer mission in Syria, according to news reports.

The mission, which is monitoring Syria's compliance with a regional peace initiative, has faced heavy criticism from opposition groups and some human rights activists who say it is providing cover for the  continuing crackdown on dissenters by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al Thani met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Wednesday.

"We are coming here for technical help and to see the experience the U.N. has, because this is the first time the Arab League is involved in sending monitors, and there are some mistakes," Jassim  was quoted as saying by Kuwait's state news agency, KUNA.

He did not specify the mistakes, according to the Kuwaiti report. Activists have complained that the mission is too small and too reliant on the government for security and logistics. They have accused Syrian authorities of attempting to mislead the observers by moving village signs and hiding detainees, and they say some victims are afraid to approach the monitors because of their security escorts. The Arab Parliament, a league advisory body, has declared the mission a failure and called for the monitors to be withdrawn. 

The Syrian government denies that it is interfering with the observer mission.

Adnan Khudair, who heads the mission operations room at Arab League headquarters in Cairo, called on all sides Thursday “not to rush to judgments.” 

He said about 150 monitors would be in the country by the end of the week, and a league ministerial committee will review their preliminary findings Sunday.

This week, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said the government had taken steps to comply with the league’s peace plan, including withdrawing tanks from cities and releasing nearly 3,500 political prisoners.

State television reported Thursday that 552 more detainees had been released.  But opposition activists said thousands of people remain behind bars, and more are arrested every day.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed since the start of major antigovernment protests in March. As many as 24 people were reported killed across the country Thursday, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of activist groups that organizes protests and documents the violence.

The government says that what it describes as foreign-backed armed terrorists are to blame for the violence and that most of the casualties are security personnel. 


 -- Alexandra Zavis. Rima Marrouch contributed to this report.

Photo: A photo released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency shows an Arab League observer wearing an orange vest during a tour in the village of Dael in Dara province.