China called today for both sides in Syria to end violence and observe a peace plan put forward by UN envoy Kofi Annan, whose efforts were now more important than ever, as the clamour grows to back tougher action against the Syrian government.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described as "unspeakable barbarity" the reported killing of at least 78 villagers by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and warned that a civil war was imminent.
Ban said hopes for consolidating the peace plan were fading and Annan himself warned the UN Security Council that the crisis in Syria could soon spiral out of control, diplomats said. Annan, Ban's predecessor as UN secretary-general, called for "substantial pressure" on Damascus to stop the violence.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin did not answer repeated questions about whether China endorses Annan's call for substantial pressure, but said both sides in Syria should stop the fighting.
"I think the Syrian government and opposition should both truly shoulder their responsibility and cease fire and halt violence," Liu told a daily news briefing. "Both sides have this responsibility because they both undertook this commitment.
"In the current circumstances, we believe that the importance of envoy Annan's mediation efforts has not diminished but rather increased," he added. "The support of all sides for the envoy Annan should strengthen, rather than weaken."
Russia and China - permanent members of the UN Security Council with the power to veto resolutions - have stymied efforts by Western powers to condemn or call for the removal of Assad, whose forces, the UN says, have killed at least 10,000 people in more than a year of unrest.
"We express strong condemnation of the recent barbarity involving attacks on innocent civilians, especially women and children, and we hope that the perpetrators will be punished according to the law as soon as possible," Liu said.