EU keen to send in UN monitors as fighting halts in Syria
EU countries are keen for a UN monitoring mission to go to Syria as fast as possible amid reports that fighting stopped at dawn on Thursday (12 April).
French foreign minister Alain Juppe told press at a meeting of G8 countries in Washington late on Wednesday that: "France wants the [UN] Security Council to adopt a resolution as quickly as possible to send a robust monitoring force on the ground ... to verify the reality of commitments undertaken by all parties [in the conflict]."
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He noted that: "We are in agreement on this point with [Russian foreign minister] Sergey Lavrov, which is a very positive element."
His remarks were echoed by UK foreign minister William Hague, who said monitors are needed "to make sure [Syria] can't slide back to renewed conflict."
The ceasefire was brokered by UN envoy Kofi Annan as part of a six point plan, which also calls for the release of prisoners; access for aid workers and press; free rein for anti-government protests; and a "Syrian-led" process to address President Bashar Assad's political future.
The UN has already drafted plans for 250 unarmed monitors to go in, drawing on blue helmets currently deployed in UN missions in Jerusalem and on the Israel-Lebanon and Israel-Syria borders.
A "robust" force in Juppe's terms would require monitors to have their own armoured vehicles and bodyguards so that they could move around freely, an independent base with secure communications equipment and access to drone and satellite intelligence.
For its part, Russia has warned the biggest threat to peace comes from rebels.
"The Syrian government has declared it will cease fire as of 6am on 12 April. Now it's up to the armed opposition," its deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov tweeted on Wednesday. The rebels themselves have predicted people will march en masse on Assad's palace the moment they see tanks pull back.
The EU has in recent months castigated Russia for blocking a UN Security Council resolution calling on Assad to halt violence.
But behind the scenes, EU security specialists have relied on Russian intelligence to assess what is going on inside the country. "The Russians are the only ones who have the full picture. They tell us that the rebel forces have killed as many as 3,000 government supporters in recent months," one EU contact told EUobserver in March, citing EU fears of a bloody civil war if Assad falls.
EU and US leaders have also declared that Assad is no longer the legitimate leader of Syria and should step down immediately.
But one analyst noted that despite its rhetoric, the West is happy for him to stay in power so long as bloodshed ends because it fears the Sunni Muslim opposition is a threat to Israeli and Lebanese security and to the safety of Christians in Syria.
"They have no alternative to Assad. The fact that the last round of [EU] sanctions boiled down to stopping his wife from shopping in Paris shows that they are not serious about bringing him down," Robert Baer, a former CIA officer in Lebanon and Syria, told this website.
An EU diplomat noted that Assad has gone too far to ever mend relations with the West. "He has systematically killed over 10,000 people ... This is not like Andijan. Nobody in the EU will ever shake his hand again," he said.
Uzbek leader Islam Karimov's soldiers killed up to 5,000 people in the town of Andijan in 2005. But a few years later the EU dropped sanctions and welcomed him back in Brussels due to Uzbekistan's strategic importance.
Assad's father, Hafez Assad, massacred between 10,000 and 40,000 people in the town of Hama in 1982. But in the 1990s he was back on the red carpet in Paris shaking hands with the then French leader Jacques Chirac.