Syria, UN sign agreement on monitoring mission

French FM says 300-400 more observers needed; Russia calls "Friends of Syria" meeting "destructive."

Annan gives a statement after his address to UNSC 370 (photo credit: reu)
Annan gives a statement after his address to UNSC 370
(photo credit: reu)
DAMASCUS - Syria and the United Nations signed an agreement on Thursday on the terms of a ceasefire monitoring mission, a Reuters witness at the Foreign Ministry in Damascus said.
A statement from the UN-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan said the Syrian government and the United Nations had agreed a basis for a "protocol" on the deployment of more observers.
Earlier, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said an observer mission would require between 300 and 400 people to oversee the country properly, more than the 250 observers the Syrian government says is reasonable.
Speaking shortly before a meeting in Paris of foreign ministers from the international "Friends of Syria" coalition, Juppe, said the group would discuss contingency plans for a potential unraveling of a UN-backed peace plan.
"If it is not possible (to implement the plan) then we will look at what new measures need to be taken," Juppe told a media briefing ahead of the talks with delegations from 14 countries including the United States, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is holding a "Friends of Syria" group meeting Thursday evening in Paris with European and Arab ministers from countries that had at previous meetings discussed support for opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.
Russia called the meeting "destructive," saying it could undermine Annan's peace efforts. Though it was invited to join, Russia stayed away because the talks were "one-sided" without representation from the Syrian government, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
The goal of the meeting appeared to be not to seek dialogue among Syrians but "on the contrary, to deepen differences between the opposition and Damascus by stimulating the international isolation of the latter," he said.
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UN Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon said in a letter to the Security Council obtained by Reuters on Wednesday that Syria has not fully withdrawn troops and heavy weapons from towns, failing to send a "clear signal" about its commitment to peace.
Ban also said an expanded UN monitoring mission for Syria would be composed of "an initial deployment" of up to 300 unarmed observers who would supervise a fragile week-old ceasefire between forces loyal to Assad and opposition fighters seeking to oust him. But Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem said 250 observers was a "reasonable number", adding they should be from countries such as China, Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa, which Damascus considers are more sympathetic than nations in the West or the Arab League.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the solution for the crisis in Syria was the establishment of humanitarian corridors which would allow the opposition to President Bashar Assad to survive. "Bashar al-Assad is lying ... He wants to wipe Homs off the map just like (former Libyan President Muammar) Gaddafi wanted to destroy Benghazi," Sarkozy said.

"The solution is the establishment of humanitarian corridors so that an opposition can exist in Syria," he told Europe 1 radio.

China said it was considering sending observers to monitor a week-old truce in Syria that has so far failed to put an end to a year of bloodshed. China is "seriously studying" the idea, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news briefing.