Russia backs Syria ceasefire monitors

2012-03-13 17:56

Moscow - Russia said on Tuesday it will press Syria to accept international monitors who could observe the implementation of a "simultaneous" ceasefire between government troops and rebels.

But it also dismissed Western pressure to halt its weapons supplies to the conflict-torn country and stressed that the armed resistance bore equal blame for the mounting death toll.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was discussing the monitors idea with Arab countries and at the United Nations amid efforts by Moscow to mute Western criticism of its refusal to condemn its long-standing ally.

"The objective is for both sides to understand that there is an independent observer watching how they meet demands - and we are definitely going to be making such demands - for an immediate ceasefire," he said.

"This must be simultaneous. We must not have a situation in which the government is required to leave the cities and villages while the armed groups are not made to do the same.

"This is unrealistic, not because we want the bloodshed to continue, but because the unilateral withdrawal of government forces is completely unrealistic," Lavrov said one day after attending a heated debate on Syria at the UN Security Council.

"The Syrian authorities will not go for that, whether we like it or not," Lavrov told reporters.

Russia came under strong pressure from the United States and European powers on Monday to force its Soviet-era ally to halt a year-long crackdown that a top UN official said has claimed more than 8 000 lives.

Russia defends arms sales

Lavrov has countered that Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces will continue to wage their campaign until Western and Arab governments with sway over the opposition can force the rebel forces to also lay down their arms.

Russia has jointly with China vetoed two past Security Council draft resolutions condemning Assad for the violence and has expressed reservations about a new US-backed version of the text now under discussion.

It has also angered Washington by dismissing calls to impose a moratorium on Syrian arms sales in line with Western states.

A bipartisan group of US senators on Monday sent a letter to Defence Secretary Leon Panetta calling on Washington to halt its military co-operation with Moscow over the Syria sales.

"US taxpayers should not be put in a position where they are indirectly subsidizing the mass murder of Syrian civilians," a copy of the letter posted on the Senate website says.

But a top Russian defence official defended the Syrian sales and gave no sign that Russia was preparing to halt them on account of the violence.

Experts in Syria

"There is no secret in the fact that we have good and firm military and technological ties with Syria," RIA Novosti quoted Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov as saying.

"And as of today, we see no basis for reviewing our agreements," he said.

Russia failed to disclose the size of its sales to Syria last year in its official report on 2011 arms deliveries, but the Senate letter to Panetta estimated the figure at around $1bn.

Antonov confirmed that Russia has military experts working in Syria who advise the government about the proper use of some of the more advanced technology it buys.

"If we supply tanks somewhere, we simultaneously also send in our technical specialists in order to teach our foreign colleagues about how this equipment should be used," he said.

But Antonov dismissed suggestions that Russia has special forces fighting in Syria alongside Assad's troops.

Read more on:    bashar assad  |  leon panetta  |  syria  |  russia  |  uprisings  |  syria conflict

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