Syrian troops 'planting landmines'


Syrian troops have planted landmines along routes used by people fleeing the country’s violence and trying to reach neighbouring Turkey, an international human rights group said today.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the mines have been planted in the past weeks.

HRW said its report, released today, is based on accounts from witnesses and also Syrian de-miners. It cites witnesses as saying the landmines have already caused civilian casualties.

A Syrian official said in November that Syria had planted landmines along parts of its border with Lebanon. The official at the time said the mines were aimed at preventing arms smuggling.

Thousands of Syrians have fled to Turkey and Lebanon since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began a year ago.

Elsewhere, Syrian army defectors killed at least 10 soldiers in an ambush in the northern town of Idlib today, a rights activist said. Fighting was also reported in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor.

Idlib province backs onto Turkey and has been a focal point of clashes between government forces and the lightly armed Syrian Free Army, which has vowed to topple Dr Assad.

"At least 10 Syrian soldiers have been killed by army defectors in the northern town of Idlib," said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group. "They were killed during an early morning ambush on a government checkpoint."

Western countries clashed with Russia at the United Nations Security Council over Syria yesterday, as activists and the Damascus government traded blame for a massacre of civilians in the city of Homs.

The conflict appeared to inch closer to civil war with the exiled Syrian National Council (SNC) saying it was preparing to arm anti-government rebels with foreign help. But the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad remained fragmented.

SNC representatives are meeting today in Ankara with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who held talks with Dr Assad on Saturday and Sunday.