Kofi Annan in China for talks on Syria


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United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan was in Beijing today to seek China's backing for his plan for a negotiated end to the bloody conflict in Syria.

Mr Annan flew in after meeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, where he said there is no deadline for ending the Syrian crisis but that it cannot drag on indefinitely.

In Beijing, Mr Annan met Chinese Foreign Ministry officials and was due to hold talks later with Premier Wen Jiabao.

The former UN secretary-general is proposing a six-point plan to end the bloodshed in Syria.

He said in Moscow that, above all, the Syrian government and opposition must start a political process to resolve the conflict peacefully, adding that it would be up to the Syrians themselves to decide whether President Bashar Assad should step down.

China - along with Russia - has twice shielded Mr Assad from UN sanctions over his crackdown on a year-long uprising, in which more than 8,000 people have been killed.

The two countries called the resolutions unbalanced, saying they blamed only the Syrian government and demanded an end to government attacks, but not those by the opposition.

About 60 countries, including the United States, will attend a Friends of the Syrian People conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said yesterday that China was invited but would not attend.

Washington and many of its allies have said that Mr Assad has lost all legitimacy in a year of cracking down on political opponents and that he must step down. China says the crisis needs to be resolved through talks.

Mr Annan's proposals include a ceasefire first by the Syrian government, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide humanitarian aid, and inclusive Syrian-led political talks “to address the legitimate concerns of the Syrian people”.

The conference in Istanbul will come as Turkey edges closer to setting up a buffer zone in Syria to protect civilians.

Turkish officials have long been hesitant about the idea, but now say a surge of refugees from Syria might compel Turkey, preferably with international backing, to establish a buffer zone on Syrian soil to guarantee the security of its own southern border as well as the welfare of civilians fleeing violence.