Pretoria takes soft stance on Syria

2012-07-21 19:26

South Africa came under fire again this week for refusing to side with the majority of countries in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) against the Syrian government.

At a UNSC meeting on Thursday, South Africa, along with Pakistan, abstained from the vote on Syria, saying it imposed sanctions on the government of president Bashir al-Assad but not on the opposition forces in Syria.

“It has become clear both sides in Syria are heavily armed,” deputy international relations minister Ebrahim Ebrahim told reporters in Pretoria on Friday.

Ebrahim said the resolution was necessary as the UN was asked by its former secretary-general Kofi Annan to send out a strong signal to Syria that the civil war cannot continue. Annan is the UN-appointed mediator in the Syrian conflict.

But Ebrahim said both sides in the conflict must realise there will be consequences for their actions.

The resolution as it stands, according to Pretoria, seems to favour the opposition because it only mentions the Assad government when it warns of the future consequences of the government’s actions.

The resolution sets down a deadline for an end to the use of heavy weapons, calls for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from towns and cities, and proposes sanctions if this deadline is not met.

Ebrahim alluded to the conflict within the group of permanent members of the UNSC, which resulted in China and Russia vetoing the resolution.

“It was better for us to abstain and not get caught in the conflict among the P5 (permanent UNSC members) and express our concern by not getting involved,” Ebrahim said.

However, European diplomats and opposition parties criticised South Africa’s stance, accusing it of fence-sitting.

Ian Davidson, the DA’s spokesperson on international relations, said: “Instead of using our position as a member of Brics to encourage China and Russia to do the right thing, we are being caught in the slipstream of their bad decisions.

“Our association with China and Russia in this regard will undermine our legitimacy in the UNSC and could derail our efforts to reform this structure to the benefit of smaller and developing nations.”

Ebrahim said South Africa tried to negotiate with the proponent of the resolution, Britain, but could not reach an agreement.

“They seemed to want to make some kind of political point,” he said.

Ebrahim also slammed the Syrian opposition for its rejection of the Annan peace plan.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha (65), a former army general and the most senior government official, was killed in an attack by rebels together with his deputy Assef Shawkat, who was married to Assad’s sister.

Former defence minister Hassan Turkmani died later in hospital.

Interior minister Mohammed Shaar and General Hisham Ikhtiar, who heads the national security department, were also wounded in the attack.

The bomb attack was seen as the biggest hit on Assad’s inner circle, and shows that the war had come to Damascus, Assad’s stronghold throughout the conflict.

As a result of the attack, between 8 500 and 30 000 Syrians have already crossed into Lebanon.

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