Ghost of Libya spooks SA on Syrian vote

2011-10-08 14:52

Spooked by its casting of a controversial vote at the United Nations (UN) previously, South Africa this week abstained from voting for UN sanctions against the Syrian ­regime – where the death toll rose to 2 900 this week.

Syrians have been protesting against their government since March, but their actions have been met with brutal force.

In a show of solidarity among Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, ­China and South Africa – Brazil, India and South Africa abstained from voting, while China and Russia vetoed the resolution proposed by France and the US.

Senior government officials said, the “abuse” of resolution 1973 on Libya – which asked for a no-fly zone – kept South Africa and other Brics countries from supporting a resolution ­imposing sanctions against Syria.

The initial text mooted the possibility of military intervention, but this was ­removed in the negotiation stage before the resolution came to a vote.

The decision by Brics, supported by Lebanon, drew anger from US ­ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice. “Those who oppose this resolution and give cover to a brutal regime will have to answer to the Syrian people,” Rice said after the security council meeting on Tuesday.

French UN ambassador Gérard Araud said: “Those who blocked the resolution will have these actions on their conscience. These vetoes will be seen in the region as a decision to side with a brutal regime, rather than with the people of Syria.”

But South Africa said this was another attempt at regime change by the US and European countries.

“There is a pattern of behaviour that is becoming very problematic. The noises that the sponsors of the resolution were making showed an appetite for ­regime change in Syria,” a South African official said.

International relations and cooperation spokesperson Clayson Monyela said: “It was a prelude to further action. We were concerned that this resolution should not be part of a hidden agenda to yet again institute regime change.

“Accordingly, we are concerned that the sponsors of this resolution rejected ­language that clearly excluded military intervention in the resolution of the ­Syrian crisis.”

In Libya, the UN first adopted a resolution imposing an arms embargo and ­demanding an end to the violence. This was used as a stepping stone to resolution 1973 authorising military ­intervention – which South Africa voted in favour of, allegedly unwittingly.

Syria apparently has a lucrative arms industry which large countries want ­access to, the government official said.

“Russia is already benefiting there, they have sold arms there. (The) US wants to access that,” the South African government official said.

International relations and co-operation deputy minister Ebrahim Ebrahim visited Syria in August to urge its government to lay down arms and negotiate.

Syria’s Turkish neighbours have tried to convince president Bashar al-Assad to stop the violence, but he ­reneged on promises to enact reforms. South Africa has offered to facilitate talks.

“We believe talking is the most ­sustainable way to lasting peace,” ­Monyela said. 

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