UN motion criticises crackdown in Syria

Thu, Jun 9, 2011, 01:00

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE on Syria intensified yesterday when France and Britain tabled a UN Security Council resolution condemning the crackdown on protesters by Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The French government believes that, after three months of repression against anti-government protesters in Syria, a firm resolution already has the support of 11 of the 15 states on the security council. Russia, which regards Syria as a strategic ally, could veto the text, but French foreign minister Alain Juppé said this was “a risk we are willing to take”.

British prime minister David Cameron announced that London and Paris would put down a resolution yesterday condemning the repression and demanding accountability and humanitarian access to Syrian cities. “And if anyone votes against that resolution or tries to veto it, that should be on their conscience,” Mr Cameron told the House of Commons.

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal circulated a draft resolution condemning Syria at the security council last month, but the intensification of the crackdown in recent days – which has seen an estimated 1,000 people killed – has now led to a version with tougher language.

The French government has gone further than the United States and Britain by saying President Bashar al-Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down, while Mr Juppé was in New York and Washington this week leading a drive for the UN to take a stand on Syria.

“Russia will probably veto any resolution on Syria . . . so what should we do? We think we must go ahead and circulate the draft resolution at the security council. We think it will be possible to get 11 votes in favour of the resolution and we’ll see what the Russians do.

“If they veto, they will take that responsibility. Maybe if they see that there are 11 votes in favour of the resolution, they will change their mind.”

France and Britain took encouragement from Russia’s decision to abstain in the security council vote in March which authorised the use of force to protest civilians in Libya. While Moscow has indicated that was a once-off and has sharply criticised the actions of Nato forces in Libya, western diplomats point to Russia’s support of a recent G8 declaration calling for Muammar Gadafy’s departure as evidence that its thinking is close to that of major western capitals.

China has also made clear its unease with security council involvement, but Paris and London believe both Beijing and Moscow can be persuaded to change their position if the issue comes to a vote. Unlike the resolution on Libya, the draft text on Syria does not suggest military action or sanctions.

A further sign of the pressure on Damascus has come from Turkey, Syria’s neighbour and main trading partner, which has publicly chided Mr Assad for failing to respond to the unrest by carrying out reform.

Despite its friendship with Syria, with which it has had a visa-free border since 2009, Turkey has accepted a trickle of Syrian asylum-seekers and hosted a conference of Syrian opposition figures last week.

Meanwhile, Syria’s ambassador to France has denied reports in the French media that she had resigned. Appearing on French TV, Lamia Chakkour said a telephone interview in which she was reported to have quit was part of a campaign of misinformation against Mr Assad’s government.

She has threatened to sue France 24, which admitted yesterday it was probably the victim of a hoax.