UN envoy's Syrian tour condemned as 'useless'

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Baroness Amos's flying visit to besieged Homs incurs wrath of activists furious at UN inaction

Cairo

Opposition activists in Syria have lashed out at the UN emergency aid chief who toured the besieged city of Homs this week, deriding her and her organisation for doing too little, too late.

Baroness Amos, a former cabinet minister under Tony Blair, described how she was "struck" by the devastation she saw during a 45-minute tour around Baba Amr, the rebel district of Homs that became a shell-scarred wasteland after four weeks of non-stop bombardment by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

"That part of Homs is completely destroyed and I am concerned to learn what happened to the people in that part of the city," she told reporters in Damascus yesterday.

But activists questioned why it had taken nearly a year, and more than 7,500 deaths, for her to make the visit.

"To tell the truth, we know that Valerie Amos is useless. We have had one year of killing, shooting and bombing and nobody has moved a finger," said an activist who calls himself Abo Abdo. He spoke as reports emerged of another round of killings in Homs.

Speaking to The Independent from the countryside around Homs, Abo Abdo said: "For her to come for 45 minutes and then to leave again is nothing. It was useless. This should have happened after the first month of the revolution. Valerie Amos's trip was the most extensive step they [the UN] has made, but it is too late. This should have happened 10 months ago."

He added that Baroness Amos's comments about the state of Homs would "make no difference" for civilians caught up in the conflict.

"The Red Cross has been at the gates of Baba Amr for a week, and for what? Why aren't they allowed to go inside? There is no other answer other than Assad wanted to clean up." The UN emergency aid chief's tour came in advance of a visit to the country by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, now the joint envoy for the UN and the Arab League. He is due to fly into Damascus tomorrow, but activists and refugees are sceptical that his visit will achieve anything.

Nadir el-Hosseini, a refugee who fled to the Lebanese border after Syrian troops overran Baba Amr, said diplomatic efforts to halt the regime crackdown had failed. "I think Kofi Annan's visit will extend the life of the crisis," he said during a telephone interview.

"To have dialogue with a leader, he has to be legitimate. This regime is not legitimate. There is only one language they understand, and that is force."

Abo Abdo said: "If anyone in the world still does not believe what's going on in Syria then they have no brain and no eyes to see anything. Every day we hear about a new plan, and all it does is give him more time."

During a visit to Cairo before he flies to Damascus, Mr Annan said his mission was to kickstart a "political process". He called on all sides to stop fighting and begin a process of reconciliation. "As I move to Syria, we will do whatever we can to urge and press for a cessation of hostilities and end to the killing and violence," he said.

But his plea came as the violence continued. The Local Co-ordination Committees – a network of activists – claimed that dozens more people died in fighting across Syria yesterday.

In Maaret al-Nouman, a town in the northern Idlib province, there were numerous injuries after a civilian bus came under shellfire, while in a district of Homs adjacent to Baba Amr, the Co-ordination Committees reported that a number of families had been killed by security forces loyal to the government. Due to reporting restrictions in Syria it was not possible to verify the reports.

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