France calls for Syrian aid corridors to be created


PARIS – France has called for the creation of aid corridors into Syria to help people escape what it describes as massacres there, saying a UN-brokered ceasefire offers an opportunity to put the humanitarian measures in place.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking on French television, expressed doubts about Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s commitment to the truce, saying: “I do not believe Bashar al-Assad is sincere. Sadly I do not believe this ceasefire.”

Mr Sarkozy, waging an uphill battle for re-election in a vote that opens on April 22nd, said he discussed Syria with US president Barack Obama on Thursday, including measures being considered by the UN Security Council.

Paris, which has led calls for Dr Assad to step aside, wants a safe passage for relief organisations – with Syrian approval or an international mandate – to get food and medicine to civilians caught up in the fighting.

UN/Arab Leage envoy Kofi Annan’s spokesman in Geneva also called for aid corridors to be opened, saying about one million people needed help in Syria.

Under the French plan to bring in aid, humanitarian corridors would link the frontiers of Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan to the Mediterranean coast or to an airport.

French foreign minister Alain Juppé has said the zone could be protected by armed “observers”, but has ruled out direct military intervention. Diplomatic sources say a UN resolution would be needed to create the corridors, but who would protect it, be it peacekeepers or unarmed observers, is unclear.

Mr Juppé’s spokesman, Bernard Valero, said there was no specific plan, but that with a ceasefire in place, setting up corridors could be easier, unlike previous efforts which failed after Syria, Russia and China opposed them. “There is a humanitarian urgency,” Mr Valero said. “We’re in a different situation now to when Assad’s helicopters and tanks were firing on everything that moved. The ceasefire opens up new opportunities for humanitarian aid.”

Syrian opposition activists called mass protests for yesterday to test the fragile, day-old ceasefire. Mr Juppé said the Assad government had agreed to allow peaceful demonstrations as part of Mr Annan’s six-point plan to end the violence and begin political dialogue. “The demonstrations must be allowed to take place today and if the regime were to crack down on them, it would be a clear violation of its commitments,” he said yesterday.

Mr Sarkozy and Mr Obama said they would continue to apply pressure on Damascus, including at the UN Security Council. Paris will hold an April 17th meeting of about 50 countries, including EU and Arab League states, to discuss strengthening sanctions and ensuring that existing ones are implemented.

Mr Valero also said Paris had gathered information and witness accounts of crimes against humanity committed by Dr Assad’s government. – (Reuters)