Ban calls on Assad to implement peace plan


UNITED NATIONS monitors seeking to reach the site of a new reported massacre of Syrian villagers by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were shot at with small arms, according to the organisation’s secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.

Mr Ban, speaking yesterday at the start of a special UN General Assembly session on the Syrian crisis, condemned the reported massacre at Mazraat al-Qubeir and called again on Dr Assad to immediately implement international mediator Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan.

“Today’s news reports of another massacre . . . are shocking and sickening,” he told the 193-nation assembly. “A village apparently surrounded by Syrian forces. The bodies of innocent civilians lying where they were, shot. Some allegedly burned or slashed with knives.

“We condemn this unspeakable barbarity and renew our determination to bring those responsible to account,” he said.

Mr Ban said UN monitors were initially denied access to the site.

“They are working now to get to the scene,” he said. “And I just learned a few minutes ago that while trying to do so the UN monitors were shot at with small arms.”

Mr Ban was addressing the general assembly ahead of Mr Annan’s presentation to the UN Security Council last night of a new proposal in a last-ditch effort to rescue his peace plan for Syria, where 15 months of violence have brought it to the brink of civil war.

Speaking to the general assembly after Mr Ban, Mr Annan also condemned the new reported massacre and acknowledged that his peace plan was not working. He warned that the crisis could soon spiral out of control and called for substantial pressure on Damascus.

The Syrian opposition and western and Gulf nations seeking the ousting of Dr Assad increasingly see the six-point peace plan as doomed due to the Syrian government’s moves tocrush an increasingly militarised opposition.

The core of Mr Annan’s proposal, diplomats said, would be the establishment of a contact group that would bring together Russia, China, the US, Britain, France and key regional players with influence on Syria’s government and the opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran.

By creating such a contact group, envoys said, Mr Annan would also be trying to break the deadlock among the five permanent council members that has pitted veto powers Russia and China against the US, Britain and France and prevented any meaningful UN action on the conflict.

It would attempt to map out a “political transition” for Syria that would lead to Dr Assad stepping aside and the holding of free elections, envoys said. One diplomat said the idea was “vaguely similar” to a transition deal for Yemen that led to the president’s ousting.

The main point of Mr Annan’s proposal, they said, is to get Russia to commit to the idea of a Syrian political transition, which remains the thrust of his six-point peace plan. “We’re trying to get the Russians to understand that if they don’t give up on Assad, they stand to lose all their interests in Syria if this thing blows up into a major regional war involving Lebanon, Iran, Saudis,” a Western diplomat told Reuters. “So far the Russians have not agreed.”

Apart from Russian arms sales to Damascus, Syria hosts Russia’s only warm water port outside the former Soviet Union. While Russia has said it is not protecting Dr Assad, it has given no indications that it is ready to abandon him. Last week, US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice suggested that if Russia continued to prevent the Security Council from putting pressure on Syria, states may have no choice but to consider acting outside the UN. – (Reuters)