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Annan returns to Syria to continue peace talks

July 8, 2012 |  4:16 pm

 Syria military exercise
BEIRUT -- United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan arrived  in Damascus on Sunday for his latest round of talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The former U.N chief’s arrival in the Syrian capital  came after Annan acknowledged  to a French newspaper that his six-point Syria peace plan was failing.

“On Syria, evidently, we have not succeeded,” he told Le Monde newspaper (link in French) on Saturday. "And perhaps there is no guarantee that we will succeed."

The Annan peace plan had called for a cease-fire and for the government to withdraw its troops and heavy armor from populated areas, among other mandates. However, the fighting has accelerated since the plan was unveiled three months ago.

The United Nations did  dispatch a team of 300 unarmed military observers to monitor the implementation of the anticipated truce. But the mission was suspended last month because of the danger posed by continued fighting.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, called Friday for scaling back the monitor mission in Syria to refocus on political efforts on putting an end to an increasingly bloody conflict.

Annan’s surprise visit to Syria marks at least his third trip to the crisis-torn country in recent months, but the violence showed  no sign of abating as he touched down in Damascus.

Syrian activists reported heavy shelling in several areas across the country, including in the rebel stronghold of Rastan and elsewhere in Homs province, as well as in the southern Dara province.

The government said through the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, that authorities were battling  “armed terrorist groups” -- the label for the armed opposition - -in various areas throughout the country. 

SANA also announced that the Syrian armed forces held maneuvers Sunday to test “combat capability and ability.”

The naval exercises showed a “high level of combat training and its ability to defend Syria's shores against any possible aggression,” the news agency said, adding that missiles launched from the “sea and coast, helicopters and missile boats” were used during the live-fire exercise by naval troops.

The move may have been in response to a buildup of Turkish forces along the nation's long border with Syria. Relations between the two former allies  have disintegrated since Syrian antiaircraft batteries last month shot down a Turkish military jet off the Syrian coast.


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-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Patrick J.  McDonnell in Istanbul, Turkey

Photo: Syrian rocket launchers take part in military exercises aimed at testing combat readiness, according to the Foreign Ministry.  Credit: Syrian Arab News Agency