Share this article

print logo

Envoy urges U.N. panel to demand Syria withdraw troops, weapons

International envoy Kofi Annan told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday he was "encouraged" at the start of a fragile cease-fire in Syria but said the government failed to keep its pledge to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from cities and towns.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, the current council president, said Annan urged council members to demand that Syrian President Bashar Assad order his troops back to barracks.

She quoted Annan as saying in his video briefing to the council that "troops and heavy weapons remain in population centers."

Annan asked the Security Council to quickly authorize the deployment of an advance U.N. team to monitor the cease-fire, ahead of the deployment of a larger monitoring mission. South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Baso Sangqu said discussions on the text of a U.N. resolution authorizing the deployment would begin Thursday afternoon, and diplomats said it could be adopted as early as today.

The draft resolution, obtained by the Associated Press, would authorize an advance element of up to 30 unarmed military observers and demand that the government ensure their "full and unimpeded freedom of movement throughout Syria" and guarantee the mission's ability to interview any individual "freely or in private."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned that a single gunshot could derail the fragile peace that started at 6 a.m. Damascus time. He urged both sides to refrain from provocation.

"It may be broken any time," Ban said. "If and when there is another gunshot, even a small gunshot may give both sides the pretext to engage in another fighting. This is a very worrisome."

Both Ban and Rice said the onus was on Syria to maintain peace.

"Its track record up until today has been dismal," Rice said. "We hope, but we clearly remain cautious in our assessment, that today becomes the start of a new way forward. But I think, frankly, we have a year's worth of evidence that leads us all to enormous skepticism."

The Assad regime has been using force to put down a civilian uprising for more than a year, and at least 9,000 people have died, according to U.N. estimates.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari reiterated to reporters that his government is committed to the success of Annan's mission and insisted that "we have already complied" with the requirement in his six-point peace plan to pull back troops and equipment.

Rice said Annan told the council he had received unconfirmed reports of violence in some cities after the cease-fire took effect, but said this was not unusual in the early hours of a cessation of hostilities "as parties were testing each other."

If Syria does not implement its commitments, the draft expresses the council's determination "to consider further measures as appropriate," which could include sanctions.