'Syria would let monitors stay, not widen mandate'

Arab League team expected to report failure to implement peace plan; mission mandate to expire this week.

By REUTERS
January 17, 2012 18:33
2 minute read.
Arab League monitors in Syria

Arab League monitors in Syria 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/via Reuters Tv/Handout)

 
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Syria will accept extending an Arab League mission to monitor its compliance with a plan aimed at ending 10 months of violence, but opposes an expansion in the scope of its mandate, an Arab source said on Tuesday.

An Arab League observer team in Syria since late December is expected to report this week that Damascus has failed to fully implement the Arab peace plan and monitors have reported ongoing violence. The mission's mandate expires on Thursday, and Arab foreign ministers are set to discuss its future on January 22.

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"The outcome of the contacts that have taken place over the past week between the Arab League and Syria have affirmed that Syria will not reject the renewal of the Arab monitoring mission for another month... if the Arab foreign ministers call for this at the coming meeting," the source at the Arab League said.

The source said China and Russia had urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to accept an extension of the monitoring mission as a way to avert an escalation at the international level.

"In the contacts between the Arab League and Russia and China, those two countries stressed that they had advised Syria to accept the presence of Arab observes for an extra period if called for by Arab foreign ministers, since their presence will avert opportunities for international intervention," he said.

Few Western powers favor any Libya-style action in Syria, which lies in the heart of the conflict-prone Middle East.

Some Arab countries say the monitors need a broader mandate to stop violence. Qatar has suggested sending in Arab troops, a bold idea for the often sluggish League and one likely to be resisted by Arab rulers close to Assad as well as those worried about unrest at home.

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The source said Syria would agree to allow the number of monitors, now fewer than 200, to be increased, but would not allow them to be given formal fact-finding duties or to be allowed into "military zones" that are not included in the existing Arab peace plan.

Any change in the scope of the mission - whether that means militarizing it or giving it a broader mandate to investigate human rights abuses and potentially assign blame - would require a new agreement with Syria, the source said.

Syria has rejected the idea of Arab troops on its soil and it is far from clear whether any request to send in forces, even if agreed by Arab ministers, would get the go-ahead from Assad.

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"Syria would not express any resistance if Arab ministers decide to increase the number of monitors or to supply them with more logistical equipment necessary for their work but it would have reservations about changing the mission from one of monitoring to one of fact-finding," the source said.

Critics say the Arab League monitoring team has proven toothless and has simply bought Assad more time. Major powers have also proved unable to stop the bloodshed in Syria, where UN officials say more than 5,000 people have been killed. Damascus says 2,000 of its security forces have been killed.

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