Kofi Annan to propose a 250-observer force with helicopters for Syria

Former UNSG Kofi Annan, who is now the joint envoy of the UN and the Arab League with a mandate to end the violence in Syria, is readying a recommendation that will be delivered to the UN Security Council in New York later today to establish a 250-observer force that will also have its own helicopter support.

The Syrian Government was involved in Annan’s planning discussions, and apparently agrees with this proposal. It has already been presented to the Arab League, before it goes to the UNSC today.

Reuters is reporting that “A six-day-old truce has held in some parts of Syria since President Bashar al-Assad pledged to enforce it last week. But in strong opposition areas such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa the army continues to attack and battle rebels, using heavy weapons in violation of the pledge by Damascus to pull back. After negotiations led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan acting as envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, Assad’s government has agreed to allow a small U.N. force to monitor the ceasefire. But the planned 250-strong mission is a fraction of the size of U.N. peacekeeping forces sent to other conflicts, raising doubt among Assad’s opponents about whether it can be effective or will serve as a figleaf substitute for more robust action”. This is reported here .

Meanwhile, Syrians are still singing and dancing in the streets in a display of popular mobilization that appears to be extraordinarily energizing. A video shot this week in Douma has been posted here:

    UPDATE: Later, the number went up from 250 to 300 observers, Reuters reported on Thursday 19 April: “In a letter to the Security Council on Wednesday, [UNSG] Ban said Syria had not fully complied with Annan’s six-point peace plan but still outlined plans to deploy up to 300 observers for three months to supervise a fragile truce between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and opposition fighters seeking to oust him. Ban said the observers would be deployed incrementally over a period of weeks, in approximately ten locations throughout Syria. He said an earlier UN proposal for 250 observers was insufficient. Ban also said that the freedom of access of the advance monitoring team was imperfect. It was allowed to visit Deraa but not the battle-scarred town of Homs”.

Agence France Presse [AFP] reported from Paris Thursday that at a meeting of countries called “Friends of Syria”, who apparently support tough sanctions against Syria, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe “called for tough sanctions against Damascus and for the small UN observer team on the ground to be boosted to 300 or 400-strong and made ‘robust and credible’ by being given land and air transport to cover the country”. Juppe complained that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did not attend the Paris meeting today. This is reported here.

The Reuters report on Wednesday touched on a mystery that emerged when the UNSC voted last week unanimously to send in an advance team of 30 unarmed military observers: “Norwegian General Robert Mood took a team in on April 5 and returned to brief Annan on April 10. He has not appeared publicly since, leading to speculation that he was disassociating himself from a mission he could not endorse. ‘The mystery of the missing mission chief’ needs to be cleared up, the Beirut Daily Star said on Tuesday. If he was unwilling to lead a mission of limited reach and under Syrian control ‘it is crucial now for Mood to speak up’, it said”…

Criticism has expanded, however, concerning the modus operandi of the UN unarmed military observers.

UPDATE: The NYTimes The Lede blog posted two scathing reports in a row, about decisions taken by the advance team of unarmed military observers here, and also here.

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