Annan hails Syria ’calm,’ foes trade charges

Annan hails Syria ’calm,’ foes trade charges
# 12 April 2012 20:41 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Peace envoy Kofi Annan said a ceasefire in Syria appeared to be holding on its first day Thursday, as the Syrian government and its foes traded charges of trying to wreck his peace plan, APA reports quoting AFP.

But Annan said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had not fulfilled the UN-backed peace plan and called on the UN Security Council to demand that troops be pulled out of cities and moved back to their barracks.

"I am encouraged by reports that the situation in Syria is relatively calm and that the cessation of hostilities appears to be holding," the UN-Arab League envoy said in a statement released as he briefed the Security Council.

But he insisted that "all parties have obligations to implement fully the six-point plan. This includes both the military provisions of the plan and the commitment to move to a political process."

The plan calls for the withdrawal of forces from urban areas, the release of arbitrarily detained people, freedom of movement for journalists and the right to demonstrate.

Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Barack Obama of the United States also demanded that Syria respect the terms of the peace plan.

The French presidency announced the joint call in a statement after the leaders held videophone talks on a series of world crises, and warned that Assad’s regime would be "judged on its actions".

"The two presidents urged the Syrian regime to scrupulously and unconditionally respect its undertakings in regard to the plan by the United Nations special envoy and the Arab League," the statement said.

"In liaison with their partners, notably their Arab partners, they agreed to intensify their efforts, including at the UN Security Council, to bring a definitive end to the brutal repression of the Syrian people," it said.

The leaders vowed to find a way "for humanitarian aid to be delivered, and for the Syrian people to freely choose their destiny." And they warned: "Those responsible for abuses will have to answer for their crimes."

Despite the regime’s commitment to pull back, the spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), Basma Qoudmaini, said "we have concrete proof that heavy weapons are still in population centres."

And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that, by mid-afternoon, it had not seen any troop withdrawals.

Spokeswoman Qoudmani and Facebook site "Syrian Revolution 2011" also called for peaceful demonstrations across Syria to test the government’s readiness to accept public shows of dissent.

"The real test will be if there is shooting or not when people demonstrate," Qadmouni said.

For its part, the interior ministry said people wanting to demonstrate should request permits.

"The right to demonstrate peacefully is guaranteed by law. We call on citizens to apply the law by requesting a permit before demonstrating," said a statement carried by the official SANA news agency.

The ministry said the measure is aimed at "securing the safety of citizens and to practise this right in a civilised manner."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said plans were being drawn up to send observers to Syria, starting with the dispatch of a UN peacekeeping general as early as Friday.

The UN plan is for a small initial force to be sent followed by reinforcements so that Annan’s peace plan can be fully monitored.

"We are working to send an observer team as promptly as possible," Ban told a news conference in Geneva, saying Thursday marked a "critical moment" in Annan’s plan for ending the violence.

"The world is watching however with sceptical eyes," he added, since previous promises made by the Syrian regime "have not been kept."

At the United Nations, long-time Syrian ally Russia said the Security Council could pass a resolution as early as Friday on sending in observers.

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin Moscow wanted to see observers in Syria as early as next week.

SNC chief Burhan Ghalioun urged the international community to "monitor its implementation in full, mainly the right to demonstrate ... and to provide the means to protect the people if the regime violates the plan."

"International observers should be on the ground as soon as possible," he said.

Renewed bloodshed on Thursday killed at least six people, including five civilians, and wounded dozens more, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Even so, the toll is markedly lower than it has been in recent weeks, when there have often been scores of people killed.

The SNC said the epicentre of Thursday’s bloodshed was the flashpoint central region of Hama, long a focus of dissent to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

State media charged that it was the opposition who were jeopardising the long-awaited truce, accusing rebels of bombing a bus ferrying troops to their base in Syria’s second-largest city Aleppo.

"An armed terrorist group used an explosive device to target a bus transporting officers and non-commissioned officers to their unit in Aleppo. It killed a lieutenant colonel" and wounded 24 others, state news agency SANA said.

The interior ministry urged tens of thousands of people who fled the both inside and outside the country to return home and offered an amnesty to opposition gunmen without "blood on their hands."

The rebel Free Syrian Army, for its part, insisted it was "100 percent committed" to the ceasefire in a conflict monitors say has killed more than 10,000 people since March last year.

"The regime is being elusive. We are 100 percent committed to the ceasefire, but the regime is not abiding by it," FSA spokesman Colonel Kassem Saadeddine told AFP by Internet.

Saadeddine denied any involvement in the attack on the bus, dismissing the report as regime propaganda "to avoid fulfilling its commitment."