Amid “deeply troubling” evidence of continuing violence in Syria and following a recommendation for the establishment of a United Nations supervision mission there, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said the situation on the ground remains highly precarious, despite the Government’s stated commitment to cease all violence.
“The past few days, in particular, have brought reports of renewed and escalating violence, including the shelling of civilian areas, grave abuses by Government forces and attacks by armed groups,” Mr. Ban told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.
He said he had last night provided the Security Council with his assessment of the latest developments in Syria, including an update on the deployment of the advance team of UN military observers.
“I have recommended that the Council authorize the establishment of a United Nations supervision mission in Syria, comprising up to 300 military observers supported by a civilian component,” said Mr. Ban. “This is not a decision without risk. But I believe it can contribute to achieving a just peace and political settlement, reflecting the people’s will in Syria.”
The violence in Syria, which began in March last year as a protest movement similar to those witnessed across the Middle East and North Africa, has claimed over 9,000 lives, mostly civilians, and displaced tens of thousands of people.
The UN chief said a supervision mission with a clear mandate, the required capacities, and under the right conditions, would contribute to improving the situation on the ground. It would also help advance a cessation of armed violence in all forms and set the stage for the implementation of the six-point peace plan, put forward in March by the Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the League of Arab States for Syria, Kofi Annan.
“For the mission to succeed, we require the Syrian Government’s full cooperation, particularly in ensuring the full freedom of movement and unfettered access and safety and security of personnel, as well as the use of key enabling assets such as helicopters and other transportation,” said Mr. Ban.
He said he had strongly underscored that message in an earlier meeting with Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari.
In a statement issued in Damascus earlier Thursday, the spokesperson for Mr. Annan said an agreement had been concluded with the Syrian Government that is intended to form the basis of a protocol to govern the work of the advance team of UN observers and, upon its deployment, the UN Supervision Mechanism to monitor the cessation of violence and the implementation of the plan designed to resolve the crisis.
“This agreement outlines the functions of the observers as they fulfil their mandate in Syria and the tasks and responsibilities of the Syrian government in this regard,” said the spokesperson’s statement. The first group of the UN military monitors arrived in Damascus earlier this week.
In his comments to the media, the Secretary-General also highlighted the increasingly difficult humanitarian situation inside Syria and along its borders, noting that approximately 230,000 people, or more, have been displaced. In total, an estimated one million people are in need of relief.
“Despite assurances from the Government, there has been no meaningful progress on the ground,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”
Mr. Ban urged the Syrian authorities to recognize the urgency of the situation and permit UN agencies and international relief organizations to launch a major humanitarian field operation to help those in need.
On Thursday morning, a senior peacekeeping official and one of Mr. Annan’s deputies briefed the Security Council on Syria. Speaking to the media afterwards, Ambassador Susan Rice of the United States, which holds the Council’s presidency this month, said, “Council members were unified in their continued concern about the escalation of violence in Syria, by the Syrian Government, and the Council is discussing its next steps.”
On Saturday, the Council authorized the deployment of an advance team of 30 unarmed military observers to liaise with the parties and to begin to report on the implementation of a full cessation of armed violence, pending the deployment of a UN supervision mission that will be tasked with monitoring the cessation.
Mr. Annan submitted his six-point peace plan last month. It seeks to stop the violence, give access to humanitarian agencies, have detainees freed and calls for a start of an inclusive political dialogue.