Syria situation 'bleak' says Kofi Annan


International envoy Kofi Annan has told the United Nations Security
Council that the situation in Syria is "bleak" and expressed alarm at
reports that government troops are still carrying out military
operations in towns where UN observers are not present.

He expressed particular concern at media reports that government troops entered the central city of Hama on Monday after UN observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people. Activists said more than 30 people were killed.

"If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible," Mr Annan said.

Annan echoed UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who called the current situation "unacceptable" and urged President Bashar Assad's government to immediately implement his six-point peace-plan, which would culminate with Syrian-led talks between the government and opposition aimed at reaching a peace settlement.

The joint UN-Arab League envoy said the speedy deployment of the 300-strong UN observer force authorised by the council on Saturday was "crucial" to verify what was happening on the ground and potentially "change the political dynamics".

The observer force also would provide the international community with "incontrovertible" information to increase pressure for a ceasefire by the government and opposition, he said.

Mr Annan briefed the security council by video conference hours after his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told UN Television in Geneva that satellite imagery and other credible reports showed that, despite its claims, Syria had failed to withdraw all of its heavy weapons from populated areas as required by the ceasefire deal it accepted.

Mr Fawzi also cited credible reports that "people who approach the observers may be approached by security forces or Syrian army and harassed or arrested or even worse, perhaps killed".

Mr Annan did not mention either the satellite photos or the harassment and possible killing of people who talked to the observers in the text of his closed briefing, which was obtained by The Associated Press, but he stressed that "the government cannot cease action in one area to resume it in another".

He told the council the Syrian foreign minister had informed him in a letter on April 21 of the withdrawal of troops and heavy equipment from populated areas and the handover of responsibility to police for maintaining law and order.

He said he replied that this means troops should be back in barracks and weapons placed in storage "rather than operationally deployed" and that civilians should not be endangered by police actions.

Mr Annan said the minister's letter was "encouraging" and would make "a real difference ... if it is scrupulously applied". But he added pointedly: "It should be understood that the only promises that count are the promises that were kept."

US ambassador Susan Rice told reporters after the briefing that "several council members expressed their scepticism on the Syrian government's intentions and the veracity of statements contained in the Syrian foreign minister's letter".

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose country is Syria's most important ally, noted that some council members said "they have information" that Syria had not withdrawn its troops and heavy weapons.

"If this is the case, if the promise in the letter has not really been carried out, that would mean it is a breach of the promise they have made on Saturday," he told reporters. "I'm certainly going to bring it to the attention of Moscow that there is an issue that needs to be looked at."

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton told reporters in Washington that "the responsibility rests with Assad and with his supporters and his military to demonstrate a commitment to the Annan plan by silencing the guns".

"Unfortunately, the Assad regime has broken its commitments time and again," she said. "So even as we work to help deploy the monitors, we are preparing additional steps in case the violence continues or the monitors are prevented from doing their work."

Mr Annan said that in addition to the reported military attacks, Syria's implementation of the other points in his peace plan - including unrestricted access for journalists and humanitarian workers and allowing peaceful demonstrations - "remains partial".

He welcomed the council's initial authorisation of a 30-member advance team of UN observers, and its approval of a 300-strong UN observer team, stressing the importance of getting "eyes and ears on the ground" with the ability to move freely and swiftly.

Ms Rice said UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the council that 11 observers were currently in Syria, including two in Homs and two in Hama. He predicted 30 observers would be on the ground by April 30 and 100 observers within a month, she said.

Mr Ladsous reported that the Syrian government refused at least one observer based on his nationality and stated that it would not accept any observers or civilians for the mission from countries that were members of the Friends of Democratic Syria, Ms Rice said. The group includes more than 70 countries including the US, many European countries and a number of Middle East nations.

"He underscored that from the UN's point of view, this is entirely unacceptable," Ms Rice said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Field Service Engineer - Basingstoke / Reading Area

£16000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established name in IT Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

£33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced PPC Search Marketing Executive

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: PR and Press Executive - Beauty

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading cosmetics group is lo...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue