Syria signs UN protocol, Syrians’ ‘Friends’ meet
DAMASCUS / GENEVA
AA photoSyria yesterday signed a preliminary accord outlining a protocol for a U.N. mission to monitor a fragile week-old cease-fire in the strife-torn country, the two sides announced.
Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad signed the deal with a member of a U.N. advance team, the ministry said in a statement, Agence France-Presse reported. A statement from U.N.-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan said the Syrian government and the U.N. had agreed on a basis for a “protocol” on the deployment of more observers.
The protocol aims to facilitate the U.N. observer mission “while respecting Syria’s sovereignty,” the statement said. “This agreement outlines the functions of the observers” as well as the Syrian government’s tasks and responsibilities, Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement. “An effective observer team on the ground is vital if the lives of ordinary Syrian families are to slowly return to normal.” He added that discussions were under way with members of the Syrian opposition to ensure they also comply with the cease-fire. “The hard part lies ahead; a truly Syrian-led and -owned political dialogue to address the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Syrian people,” Fawzi said. The protocol will pave the way for some 300 U.N. observers to fan across the country to monitor the week-old truce.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council met yesterday for a briefing by Annan’s deputy, Jean-Marie Guehenno, to determine whether the conditions are right for deploying a larger monitoring mission to Syria, Reuters reported. In a letter to the Security Council, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Syria has not fully withdrawn troops and heavy weapons from towns, failing to send a “clear signal” about its commitment to peace. At least three people were reportedly killed in violence across Syria yesterday.
In the meantime, Paris hosted a dozen top diplomats from the so-called “Friends of the Syrian People” group to look for ways to help Annan’s peace plan. An effective force of U.N.-backed observers for Syria would require 300 to 400 well-equipped monitors, France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said yesterday. Juppe also said he had invited Russia to the meeting. But Russia said it was staying away because the talks were only aimed at isolating the regime and would hurt the chances of direct peace talks. China said yesterday that it was considering sending observers to monitor a truce in Syria. Meanwhile, Syria is at a turning point where the violence must stop or the U.S. will find ways to increase pressure on the regime, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on April 18.
Meanwhile, Turkish customs officials and police have begun inspecting an Antigua and Barbuda-flagged ship, “Atlantic Cruiser,” suspected of carrying weapons and heading to Syria, Anatolia news agency reported. The captain of the German-owned vessel, which docked at the port of İskenderun in southern Turkey for a security search, has said the cargo included “civilian-purpose explosives and equipment for a coal plant project.” The Ukrainian captain presented the cargo manifest, which included 313 tons of civilian-purpose explosives, fuses and capsules destined for six different Turkish receivers as well as a separate pack of 31-ton civilian-purpose explosives headed for Croatia. The list also shows the ship carried 68 tons of oil refinery equipment for Russia as well as 945 tons of parts for a coal plant project bound for the Syrian port of Tartus.