Syria resistant to increasing peacekeeping force

After Ban suggests a larger force, Syrian FM says original number of 250 observers is a "reasonable and logical" number.

UN peacekeepers blue helmets (photo credit: Ali Hashisho / Reuters)
UN peacekeepers blue helmets
(photo credit: Ali Hashisho / Reuters)
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem on Wednesday said a plan for 250 international observers was a "reasonable and logical" number to monitor a days-old ceasefire in the country, after the United Nations said it may need more troops and aircraft.
The truce has held in some parts of Syria since President Bashar Assad pledged to enforce it last week. But in strong opposition areas such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa the army continues to attack and battle rebels, using heavy weapons in violation of the pledge by Damascus to pull back.
Moualem, speaking through an English translator during a press briefing in Beijing, said he did not know why more observers would be needed, and said that the UN could use Syrian aircraft if needed.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a UN mission may need to bring in its own aircraft and deploy more troops to ensure that a firm ceasefire takes hold throughout the country.
After negotiations led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan acting as envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, Assad's government has agreed to allow a small UN force to monitor the ceasefire.
But the planned 250-strong mission is a fraction of the size of UN peacekeeping forces sent to other conflicts, raising doubt among Assad's opponents about whether it can be effective or will serve as a figleaf substitute for more robust action.
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Ban said the ceasefire was being "generally observed" although there was still violence. But the 250 observers would be "not enough considering the current situation and the vastness of the country".
He said in Luxembourg that the UN was asking the European Union to provide helicopters and planes for the operation, which he would propose formally to the Security Council on Wednesday.
The US envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Tuesday the "wisdom and the viability of sending in the full monitoring presence" of 250 would be in question if violence did not stop.