Kofi Annan to send new international monitors to Syria


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The Independent Online

Fresh gun battles erupted in the suburbs of Damascus yesterday as Kofi Annan briefed the UN Security Council on a plan to deploy a fresh round of international monitors in Syria.

Mr Annan, the former UN secretary-general, travelled to Syria on a peace mission last week but appeared to have left empty-handed when both the Syrian government and opposition figures rejected talk of reconciliation.

Yesterday, his spokesman announced that Mr Annan, who is acting as a joint Arab League-UN envoy, would dispatch a negotiating team to Damascus to discuss proposals for allowing in new observers.

"I can confirm that one of the suggestions in the proposals is a mechanism for monitors," Ahmad Fawzi said in Geneva. "His next move will depend on progress made by this mission, or lack thereof."

An Arab League monitoring mission earlier this year ended in farce, with member states recalling their observers and activists complaining that they had been powerless to stem the bloodshed. "It's not enough," said a man calling himself Abu Rabea, who spoke to The Independent by phone from Homs. "The Syrian regime has destroyed us, our houses and our mosques. Nothing Kofi Annan says is enough."

In other diplomatic moves yesterday, four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait – closed their embassies in Syria to protest against the violent crackdown by the Damascus regime. The other two members – Saudi Arabia and Bahrain had made similar moves earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, the closed Security Council session with Mr Annan, conducted via video-link, came as Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, upped the ante by lending his support to the idea of a southern "buffer zone" for refugees and rebel fighters – a move which analysts say could lead to opposition gunmen receiving training from the Turkish army. Mr Erdogan said the idea of a safe zone on the southern borderlands was being considered.

Thousands of refugees have already streamed across the border in recent months, with hundreds more arriving this week after Syrian troops stormed towns and villages around the city of Idlib in an effort to root out rebel fighters.