Syria: Senegalese general Babacar Gaye arrives in Damascus to head pared down team of UN observers

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Babacar Gaye, a Senegalese general with a reputation for straight talking, has arrived in Damascus to head up a pared down team of unarmed UN observers who remain unable to carry out their mission amid spiralling violence.

A 30-day extension to the monitoring mission was all that the deeply divided UN Security Council managed to agree on last week as it tried to reach a resolution to end the bloodshed. However, with the country in all out civil war, the team remain largely confined to their hotel rooms, raising questions as to the use of their continued presence.

Half of the team have been sent home, with just 150 remaining in Syria yesterday. Though they embark on fact-finding and humanitarian operations when conditions allow, the monitoring mission remains suspended.

“The mission operates on a reduced basis, reduced in numbers, reduced in team sites in the provinces and does what it can,” said UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous.

Speaking on his arrival in the country Lt Gen Gaye said with just 27 days left “every opportunity will be seized to alleviate the suffering of the population.”

Force commander for the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 2005 and 2010, before becoming a military advisor at the UN’s department of peacekeeping, Lt Gen Gaye has a reputation as a “straight shooter” according to Inner City Press. The diplomatic blog goes on to say that during his days in the DRC he spoke “freely, perhaps too freely about how Sisyphus-like he found it to ask his soldiers to not have sex for small amount of money with the Congolese they were supposed to protect.”

The observer mission’s mandate will not be renewed unless conditions on the ground improve, according to the terms of the extension, after Russia objected a draft saying this would be the final month for the mission.

Fierce words between Moscow and Washington continued yesterday as Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that the United States’ position on Syria is a “direct endorsement of terrorism”. He accused the US of deliberately refraining from condemning the bombing in Damascus that took out key members of the regime in the hope that such acts could speed the adoption of a Chapter 7 Security Council resolution, which would allow for military intervention.