UN general criticises empty talk on Syria


NORWEGIAN GENERAL Robert Mood, head of the UN monitoring mission in Syria, has accused representatives of the world powers of spending too much time in empty talk in luxurious settings rather than resolving the conflict.

“The urgency of stopping the violence is . . . the most important issue for everyone,” he said.

“[There is] too much talk in nice hotels, in nice meetings and too little action to move forward and stop the violence.”

Gen Mood had just returned to the Syrian capital of Damascus from the weekend gathering in Geneva which endorsed a revised version of the peace plan put forward by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. However, it did not define concrete steps to re-impose a ceasefire and begin dialogue between the warring parties with the aim of reaching a deal on transition to a new regime.

Gen Mood said he met Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad and “received from the government a very clear commitment on the six-point [Annan] plan”.

The UN mission, which suspended operations in mid-June due to escalating violence, would renew its work as soon as conditions permitted, Gen Mood said.

“We are reviewing this on a daily basis.”

There are 291 unarmed military monitors and 89 civilian observers deployed on the Syrian mission. Its mandate expires on July 20th unless the UN Security Council orders its renewal.

“Exactly what will be the outcome of the security council’s deliberations . . . remains to be seen,” Gen Mood said, adding that he remained convinced that the “commitment of the UN to the welfare of the Syrian people, to the future of the Syrian people, will be strong also after the 20th of July”.

While a Cairo conference of the Syrian expatriate opposition broke up after boycotts, walkouts, fistfights and recriminations, those attending agreed on one main point: that Syria’s transition from the current regime could begin only after Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his entourage step down. The 200-odd participants from 30 groups and movements also agreed that the rebel Free Syrian Army, which refused to take part in the gathering, should be supported.

The stance adopted in Cairo contradicts that of Mr Annan, who has said: “The bloodshed must end, and the parties must be prepared to put forward effective interlocutors to work with me towards a Syrian-led settlement.”

He did not exclude the participation of an interlocutor appointed by Dr Assad, although this possibility was rejected by the US, France and Britain, as well as the expatriate opposition and the rebels fighting the regime. Russia and China insist that Syrians themselves must decide on Dr Assad’s exclusion but have not explained how elections can be held during the ongoing conflict.

Meanwhile, the Turkish military announced that the bodies of two pilots in the aircraft shot down by Syria last month were found in international waters. Turkish state television reported that an exploration vessel discovered the remains in wreckage on the seabed 1,000m under water and had launched a recovery operation.

The Turkish F-4 Phantom aircraft was fired upon by Syrian gunners while flying off the coast of the northern Syrian port of Latakia on June 22nd.

Already strained relations between Turkey and Syria became openly hostile after the incident.

Ankara responded by declaring it would respond “decisively” to the loss of the aircraft, while Dr Assad accused Turkey of meddling in Syria’s internal affairs by supporting the opposition and the rebels fighting government forces.

Opposition activists claim forest fires that have been deliberately started by the Syrian army to clear cover for rebel fighters have spread across the border into Turkey, stoking tensions already high due to the downing of the aircraft and Turkey’s deployment of troops, artillery and armour along the frontier in response.