Annan urges political talks in Syria

2012-03-08 13:01

Beirut - Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League special envoy on Syria, said on Thursday he would urge President Bashar Assad and his foes to stop fighting and seek a political solution to end a year of conflict.

The turmoil has prompted Syria's deputy oil minister to change sides in the first defection by a senior civilian official since the start of a popular uprising against Assad.

In another sign of mounting pressure on Syria, the national currency fell as low as 100 pounds to the dollar from about 47 a year ago. Dealers in Damascus said the pound plunged about 13% in the last 24 hours on fears of US military action.

"As I move to Syria, we will do whatever we can to urge and press for a cessation of hostilities and end to the killing and violence," Annan, due in Damascus on Saturday, said in Cairo.

"But of course, ultimately the solution lies in a political settlement," the former UN secretary-general said before talks with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.

"We will be urging the government and a broad spectrum of Syrian opposition to come together to work with us to find a solution that will respect the aspirations of the Syrian people."

China on the defensive

China, one of Assad's few friends abroad, said its envoy had given his Syrian hosts a similar message and had prodded them to let relief agencies into strife-hit areas - also the focus of a mission by UN aid chief Valerie Amos to Syria.

Syria on Wednesday "welcomed" China's initiative, stressing Beijing's opposition to foreign interference in its affairs.

China is trying to counter Western and Arab charges that it, along with Russia, has colluded in Assad's repression of dissent by twice vetoing UN resolutions criticising him.

The world has failed to stop an unequal struggle pitting mostly Sunni Muslim demonstrators and lightly armed rebels against the armoured might of Assad's 300 000-strong military, secret police and feared Alawite militiamen.

Despite the strains of a conflict in which the security forces have killed well over 7 500 Syrians, according to a UN estimate, and lost at least 2 000 of their own, few senior military officers and government officials have defected.

Deputy Oil Minister Abdo Hussameldin, aged 58, became the highest-ranking civilian official to do so since the start of an uprising inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere.

Ready for persecution

"I join the revolution of this dignified people," he said in a YouTube video whose authenticity could not be confirmed.

He said he had been in government for 33 years but did not want to end his career "serving the crimes of this regime", adding: "I have preferred to do what is right although I know that this regime will burn my house and persecute my family."

Burhan Ghalioun, Paris-based leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, welcomed Hussameldin's action, but said the SNC was not in contact with him. "People from the government must continue to join the opposition," he said.

Western powers have shied away from Libya-style military intervention in Syria, at the heart of a conflict-prone Middle East, but some US lawmakers have asked how many Syrians must die before President Barack Obama's administration uses force.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday defended US caution, especially in the absence of international consensus on Syria, but said the Pentagon was reviewing options.

A city devastated

Amos, head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, saw desolate scenes when she visited the former rebel redoubt of Baba Amr in Homs city the same day.

"It was like a closed-down city and there were very few people around," Amanda Pitt, a Unocha spokesperson said after Amos toured Baba Amr with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

It "looked like it was devastated from the fighting and shelling", Pitt said in New York, relaying Amos's impressions.

Amos, allowed into Syria only after Russia and China joined the rest of the UN Security Council in rebuking Damascus for keeping her out, is seeking humanitarian access to battle zones.

A UN spokesperson in Damascus said she was meeting Syrian officials and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent on Thursday, but would make no more field trips before leaving later in the day.

An ICRC convoy has been unable to enter Baba Amr since it reached Homs on Friday, a day after rebels left a district that had endured sustained bombardment and sniping for 26 days.

Preparing attack

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said aid delays were unacceptable and urged Syria to respect a pledge last November to withdraw troops, free prisoners and allow peaceful protests.

"The regime's refusal to allow humanitarian workers to help feed the hungry, tend to the injured, bury the dead, marks a new low," she said, adding that she planned to meet her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Monday at the United Nations.

Russia's UN envoy accused Libya's new rulers of training and arming Syrian rebels. "This is completely unacceptable ... This activity is undermining stability in the Middle East," said Vitaly Churkin.

Syrian activist groups said the army, after its onslaught on Homs, is preparing to attack rebel bastions in Idlib province, a mountainous area in the northwest which borders Turkey.

A pro-Syrian Lebanese official said last month that Assad aimed to crush insurgents in Homs and move on to Idlib.

  • Anthony - 2012-03-08 13:18

    Although Kofi Annan is highly respected in the Arab world, it is doubtful this is going to work. A dictator does not like to negotiate, and the opposition, after waiting 45 years for this moment, has finally run out of patience. There is ONLY one solution; this assad must go !!!!!

  • Michael - 2012-03-08 14:25

    What a poorly written piece full of spin and contradictions of other announced information, and moving totally away from the subject of Annan's visit. At every opportunity we are given the same old, same old, in order that this now non-news is kept on the page, even if nothing new has transpired. Typical of propaganda unfortunately. Getting back to Annan, lets hope his approach is to continue to focus on the need for both sides to commit to the process otherwise he will also depart in failure. To Anthony , yes and you as part of the opposition start by refusing it! Talk of calling the kettle black!

      Anthony - 2012-03-08 15:13

      @Michael, The opposition tried for over 45 years ( FORTY FIVE YEARS ) to negotiate with first daddy, and now that useless son. The ONLY response they got, were live bullets. Thousands were killed by daddy, and his son kept the family name high, by being responsible for another 8000 ( EIGHT THOUSAND ) DEATHS It is beyond reason, to ask the opposition to sit around a table with this WAR CRIMINAL!! One can call the opposition , and anyone hat supports them, ANYTHING , BUT IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN !!!!! And in any case, this guy is not serious, he just makes some noises, because the Russians...and the Chinese are getting fed up with this CRIMINAL !!!

      Fred - 2012-03-08 19:10

      Michael, you lack the full range and depth of human emotion. This is why you see the dire, cruel situation in Syria with a "propaganda" veneer. The "propaganda" (which is not propganda at all) is saying to you that you're not really connecting with what's going on, numbing yourself with that lack of human emotion, for whatever reason. Only when you heal this in you will you be able to more truly understand what's going on and have a positive impact on thd outcome. Right now you're largely a negative interference pattern, similar to Fidel (although he's extreme) and Patrick.

      nowicki1 - 2012-03-08 20:03

      Fred, explain this: - Check how sneaky these rebels are when it comes to media war . .NATO Troops In Libya. Intercepted Phone Call: . The Irony is that its you who fail to see the bigger picture.

      Michael - 2012-03-09 09:31

      This is the strategy of the Fred /Anthony coalition here. To discredit another person as being "heartless " . When sensible people see something wrong, they do not burst out in an emotional response all bluster and foaming at the mouth, they look for solutions. All the points you make about number of years etc (which incidentally you change on each occasion you publish from 45-48, it is actually 42 but that is a small matter)are well known and do not contribute to the debate, which is all about finding a solution. For the pair of you there is only one solution, for foreign backed forces to enter Syria and have an all out war. Anybody opposing that view is "heartless". Well, the good news is that many influential leaders are beginning to realize that it might be better to find an alternative to all out war, that invasion of Syria might not be a wise approach. This is why your bluster has become tiresome and repetitious on this site

      Fred - 2012-03-09 13:48

      Reading your left-brain, unemotional, unbalanced, prejudiced posts, which don't connect with the horrors of the Syrian civilians and families, it is more than obvious you don't really get what's going on. Please point out where I have called for the invasion of Syria.

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