UN chief demands Assad stop using army against Syrians

By REUTERS
August 7, 2011 02:48

In phone conversation with Syrian president, Ban Ki-moon expresses his strong concern and that of int'l community at mounting violence.

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/ Joshua Lott)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday that he was alarmed by the escalating violence in Syria and demanded that Assad stop deploying the military against civilians.

"In a phone conversation with President Assad of Syria today, the secretary-general expressed his strong concern and that of the international community at the mounting violence and death toll in Syria over the past days," the UN press office said in a statement.

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It added that Ban "urged the president to stop the use of military force against civilians immediately."

Ban has been trying for months to speak with Assad, UN officials have said, but the Syrian president had been refusing to take his calls. The last time the secretary-general spoke with Assad was in May, when he told Assad to end the violent crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Saturday's phone call comes days after the UN Security Council overcame deep divisions and condemned Damascus' bloody crackdown on civilian protesters, the 15-nation body's first substantive action on Syria's five-month-old uprising.

Ban's statement said Assad referred to "the large number of lives lost among the security forces and police," an assertion that the Syrian government has made repeatedly since the crackdown began -- and one which Western diplomats have voiced doubts about.

"The secretary-general said he condemned the violence against both the civilians as well as security forces," the statement said.

Ban also referred to Assad's promises of reforms.

"The Secretary-General underscored that for these measures to gain credibility, the use of force and mass arrests must stop immediately," the UN press office said.

Ban also reiterated previous UN demands that Damascus allow missions from international humanitarian agencies and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights into the country.

Turkish FM to 'deliver message' to Syria in upcoming visit

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit Syria on Tuesday to "deliver a message" from Turkey, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said.

Turkey, which until this year had close relations with Syria, has grown increasingly vocal in its criticism of Assad's repression of the popular uprising.

Tensions were exacerbated in June when more than 10,000 Syrians fled across Turkey's southern border from Syrian forces trying to stamp out the protests. Most are still sheltering in Turkish refugee camps.

President Abdullah Gul said on Tuesday he was horrified by Syria's armored assault on the central city of Hama.

"Our message will be decisively delivered," Erdogan said on Saturday.

"Syria is a domestic issue, because we share 850 km of border, we have cultural and historical ties and kinship. Therefore we cannot be onlookers to what is happening, but on the other hand we have to hear what they have to say, we are hearing them, and of course we have to do what is necessary".

Assad sent an envoy to see Erdogan in June after the Turkish prime minister had slammed acts of "savagery" that had forced thousands of Syrians to flee to Turkey.

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