Escalating conflict casts shadow on UN Syria plan |
Arab News - 27 June, 2012
Author: Louis Charbonneau
The United Nations is considering cutting the size of its unarmed observer force in Syria, where an escalating conflict has cast doubt on the viability of a UN-backed peace plan and a monitoring team meant to help implement it, UN envoys say.
Unless there is a significant reduction in violence soon in Syria, where a 16-month old uprising against the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad has killed over 10,000 people, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the head of UN peacekeeping Herve Ladsous will likely recommend a downsizing of the 300-strong observer force next month, UN diplomats say.
“With violence increasing, the most likely option for the United Nations is to reduce or eliminate the (unarmed) military component of UNSMIS (UN Supervision Mission in Syria) while keeping a civilian component in place as a kind of liaison operation,” a senior Western envoy said on condition of anonymity. Another council diplomat corroborated his remarks. Ban and Ladsous are expected to make their recommendations for what to do with UNSMIS in a report due at the 15-nation council by July 2. Among the other options being considered, envoys said, are closing it down completely, leaving it as is, or increasing the number of monitors and possibly arming them.
But there is little appetite for those other options in the case of UNSMIS, which said on June 16 it was suspending its operations due to increased risks to the lives of the observers, who have been targeted with gunfire and bombings since they began deploying in April, council diplomats say.
“If there’s no change, it’s hard to imagine leaving it as is, turning it into a peacekeeping force with a mandate to protect civilians, or telling everyone to go home,” a diplomat told Reuters. “More likely UNSMIS will remain at some level in case a political process or serious negotiations begin.” There are around 100 civilian experts in UNSMIS, who cover issues like human rights and the treatment of children.
“Unfortunately, pulling back may, or even downsizing, could appear as if the UN is washing its hands of the conflict and giving a green light to both sides to fight to the death,” the diplomat added. A deputy of international mediator Kofi Annan, whose April 12 cease-fire deal and six-point peace plan never took hold, will update the council on Annan’s push for a negotiated solution. Annan wants to hold a June 30 meeting of big powers and regional players, including Iran, on Syria in Geneva.
Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the council has “now embarked on a final effort to breathe life back into Annan’s plan. But this will only succeed if this council takes robust action to apply pressure on the (Syrian) regime.” UNSMIS’ 90-day mandate expires on July 20. The United States and its European allies have repeatedly urged Russia to help increase the pressure on Assad’s government by supporting UN sanctions, but Moscow has refused.
Diplomats said Britain, France and other European delegations were keen to push for a new Security Council resolution to make Annan’s peace plan legally binding for the government and rebels. This could open the door to UN sanctions, something Russia and China have repeatedly rejected.
Moscow and Beijing have vetoed two Western-Arab-backed council resolutions that condemned Damascus and threatened it with sanctions. Several Western diplomats said they were ready to brave the possibility of another council veto.
“I think there’s a 99-percent chance we’ll see another resolution at the Security Council in the next few weeks,” a senior Western envoy said. If there is another veto, envoys say, it will only further highlight the UN’s irrelevance in Syria.