Syria urged to give observers free hand
AFP photoArab League observers headed yesterday to more key protests hubs in Syria as world powers urged Damascus to give them full access as they try to reveal the truth about a crackdown on dissent.
More bloodshed was also reported as army defectors killed at least four Syrian soldiers in the southern province of Daraa, and 14 civilian was shot dead in the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
“The mission should be able to visit any part of the country, any towns or villages, and come up with its own independent, objective opinion about what is happening and where,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference with his Egyptian counterpart. “We have consistently worked with the Syrian leadership, urging full cooperation with the observers on the provision of comfortable and free conditions for work,” said Lavrov.
Accusations that the regime was trying hide the facts from the monitors were punctuated by France, which claimed the team was not being allowed to see what was happening in the flashpoint city of Homs as repression continued there. The monitors were due to visit Daraa - cradle of more than nine months of anti-regime protests - the northern provinces of Hama and Idlib, and around Damascus to pursue their investigations.
“As of Wednesday evening, and from Thursday at dawn, the observers will deploy in Idlib and Hama and in Daraa,” mission chief General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi said. Dabi, a veteran Sudanese military intelligence officer, said observers would also fan out near Damascus. The observers arrived in Syria at the weekend and Dec. 27 visited the Homs, which has been besieged by government troops for several months. Dabi said the visit to Homs had been “good,” and that he was heading back there yesterday. He said more observers would join the mission, which now numbers 66 monitors. French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the visit had been too brief and insufficiently revealing. “A few Arab League observers were able to be briefly present in Homs yesterday. Their presence did not prevent the violence in this city, where large demonstrations were violently repressed,” he said.
Syria frees 755 prisoners
The Syrian government released yesterday 755 prisoners detained over the past nine months. The prisoners’ release, reported by the state-run news agency SANA, followed accusations by Human Rights Watch that Syrian authorities were hiding hundreds of detainees from the observers now in the country. The group said the detainees have been transferred to off-limits military sites and urged the observers to insist on full access to all sites used for detention.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by Daily News staff.