U.N. poised to send cease-fire monitors to Syria, diplomats say
The United Nations Security Council could approve as soon as Friday the deployment of about 30 unarmed observers to Syria to monitor the shaky cease-fire aimed at silencing the guns of both the Syrian government and rebels seeking to oust it.
Diplomats from the 15-member council, who met behind closed doors Thursday, said a monitoring force as large as 200 could eventually be sent to the embattled country if both sides pledge to honor the peace plan drafted by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan.
The plan proposed during a reportedly "urgent" meeting of the council appeared to be an effort by the world body to put pressure on both sides to follow the terms of the Annan plan, which the former U.N. chief has warned is the only viable chance to end the bloodshed that has already taken 10,000 Syrian lives.
A Tuesday deadline for the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad to withdraw artillery from the cities and halt attacks on suspected rebel strongholds was ignored until Thursday, when the antigovernment fighters were obliged to lay down their arms.
Fighting was considerably lighter Thursday, according to news reports from Syria and surrounding countries, but sporadic clashes continued. At least three rebels were shot to death, according to foreign news reports, and the official Syrian news agency SANA said two Assad loyalists were killed.
Russia's ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, told reporters after the council meeting that a resolution authorizing the first international observer mission for the year-old internal conflict could be passed as soon as Friday.
"The full-fledged mission will take some time to deploy," he said, referring to the 200 monitors who would be committed by the world body only if both sides respect the cease-fire. "If we are able to put 20 or 30 monitors early next week, very good. If we are able to put more in the next few days that's even better."
Russia had previously resisted outside intervention in allied Syria but may have relented after Damascus failed to meet the initial terms of the Annan plan, which Moscow used its influence to get Assad to sign on April 1.
Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying his government supported sending observers and was committed to adhering to Annan's peace plan.
The draft resolution authorizing an advance team of up to 30 observers also demands that Assad's government promise "full and unimpeded freedom of movement throughout Syria," the Associated Press reported.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, current Security Council president, told reporters that Annan had addressed the gathering by video linkup from abroad to report that Syrian government troops and heavy artillery remain in the cities in violation of the six-point peace plan.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that while "there are some signs of a tentative cease-fire holding at this point in time, that is not the same as full implementation of the commitments that the Assad regime made 12 days ago, when it said it would implement the Annan plan.”
--Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks about the situation in Syria during a news conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva. Credit: Sandro Campardo / European Pressphoto Agency