Annan to intensify Syria talks amid EU sanctions

Annan to intensify Syria talks amid EU sanctions

Annan to intensify Syria talks amid EU sanctions

Protestors chant slogans and wave Syrian flags during a pro-regime demonstration supporting al-Assad in Damascus on March 23. AFP photo

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is intensifying his diplomatic mission on Syria, with meetings in Moscow and Beijing over the weekend. Meanwhile, the European Union has placed travel sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s wife and close relatives.

Despite pressure on Damascus from the international community, the violence continues to take lives, with at least 62 reportedly killed across the country on March 23. 

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was to travel this weekend to Moscow and Beijing, which have blocked Security Council action against Syria, but he has no immediate plans to return to Damascus. Annan’s spokesman said a team of technical experts had returned to Geneva after “three days of intensive talks with Syrian authorities on urgent steps to implement” the plan. “Mr Annan and his team are currently studying the Syrian responses carefully, and negotiations with Damascus continue,” said the spokesman. In Moscow, Annan will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev. 

Medvedev, however, warned against any attempt to circumvent U.N. authority on the crisis. “There’s a need to eliminate any loopholes allowing [nations] to act in circumvention of the authority of the Security Council and use force without its approval,” Medvedev told a European security conference in Moscow on March 23. Russia, he said, had heard too many “ultimatum-like statements containing threats of armed outside interference.”

Adding to the pressure on the regime, the EU on March 23 agreed to sanction al-Assad’s British-born wife Asma, along with his mother, sister and sister-in-law. Diplomats in Brussels said EU foreign ministers had agreed to an assets freeze and travel ban on “al-Assad’s wife, mother, sister and sister-in-law” and eight other members of his entourage. Asma al-Assad cannot be barred from entering Britain despite the ban, but is not expected to head there under the current circumstances, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on March 23. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said sanctions would send a strong signal to al-Assad that the international community opposes his actions and wants him to give up power.

In Syria, thousands of people took part in “Damascus, here we come” demonstrations, opposition activists and monitors said. Fighting on March 23 was concentrated mostly in the north, near the border with Turkey. Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the next “Friends of Syria” talks in Istanbul on April 1. The French foreign minister will also attend the meeting, ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said on March 23.

Meanwhile, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) threatened on March 22 to turn all Kurdish-populated areas into a “war zone” if Turkish troops enter Syria, a sign the terror group, which has allies in Syria, may be taking sides in the conflict there. Murat Karayılan, the leader of the PKK, claimed Turkey was preparing the ground for an intervention in Syria. “The Turkish state is planning an intervention against our people,” the Europe-based Fırat news agency, close to the PKK, quoted him as saying. “Let me state clearly, if the Turkish state intervenes against our people in western Kurdistan [Kurdish areas of northeastern Syria], all of Kurdistan [including parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria] will turn into a war zone.

In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council ordered an extension of a probe into violations in Syria, and asked investigators to map out abuses since a deadly crackdown on protests in the country erupted in March 2011.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.