UN: Arab mission to Syria must be impartial

Death toll rises in Syria despite Arab League observers; Britain, Ashton urge Damascus to end violence as per League plan.

By REUTERS
December 30, 2011 23:50
3 minute read.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny)

 
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Reacting to the skepticism that has been voiced about the Arab League mission to Syria and its leader, Sudanese general Mohammed al-Dabi, the United Nations said on Friday it was critical that the team's "independence and impartiality be fully preserved."

Spokesman Martin Nesirky urged the Arab League to "take all steps possible to ensure that its observer mission will be able to fulfill its mandate in accordance with international human rights law standards."

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The world body was willing to give the League observers training on human rights monitoring, he added.

The UN statement came as Syrian security forces opened fire at protesters on Friday, killing at least 12, as hundreds of thousands filled the streets of restive cities to demonstrate against the government of President Bashar Assad, opposition activists said.

Five members of the security forces also were killed in a shooting in the city of Homs, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Assad, 46, has signed up to an Arab League plan for a verifiable withdrawal of his heavy weaponry and army from cities, where more than 5,000 people have been killed since March - many shot during peaceful anti-government protests but also many killed in rebel attacks and local defense actions.

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But the presence of Arab League monitors in hotspots across Syria since Monday has, if anything, energized the protesters.

Demonstrators determined to show the strength of their movement to the monitors on Friday threw rocks at security forces in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where troops tear-gassed the chanting crowds.

Five people were shot dead in the city of Hama and five in the city of Deraa in the south as crowds braved army and police.

In parts of Hama, videos showed protesters fleeing the main streets as heavy gunfire erupted in the background. In one such segment, a few men rushed back, ducking in the crackle of gunfire, to carry away a man who had fallen limp in the street.

In the Damascus suburb of Douma, protesters bore away a man whose leg had been shredded by what they said were nail bombs.

Activists in Idlib said the army had concealed its tanks in buildings on the outskirts or in dugouts.

The Arab League mission has met with strong skepticism from the outset - over its makeup, its small numbers, its reliance on Syrian government logistics, and an initial assessment by its Sudanese chief that the situation was "reassuring."

That comment was met with disbelief in the West on Wednesday but on Friday Syria's ally Russia accepted the judgment.

"Judging by the public statements made by the chief of the mission (Sudanese general Mohammed) al-Dabi, who in the first of his visits went to the city of Homs ... the situation seems to be reassuring," Russia's Foreign Ministry said on its website.

However on Friday al-Dabi, whom some link to war crimes in Darfur in the 1990s, said the reports of his comments were "unfounded and not true", a mission statement said. It said all future statements would be in writing.

"Unfortunately, reports show that the violence has continued in Syria over the past few days," said Britain's Foreign Office minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt.

"I urge the Syrian government to meet fully its obligations to the Arab League, including immediately ending the repression and withdrawing security forces from cities."

In Brussels, a spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU "urges Syria to comply with the action plan of the Arab league in all its components" including "an immediate end of violence, the release of political prisoners (and) pulling the military out of cities."

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