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Kofi Annan decries situation in Syria

Special envoy says U.N. monitors are providing only brief breaks in the fighting, and he calls for quick deployment of remaining monitors.

April 25, 2012|By Los Angeles Times Staff
  • Syrian protesters gather around U.N. monitors during the monitors' visit to Duma, near Damascus.
Syrian protesters gather around U.N. monitors during the monitors'… (Associated Press )

BEIRUT — The presence of United Nations-backed monitors in Syria is providing only brief respites from violence and in some cases may be making the situation worse, a spokesman for U.N. and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan said Tuesday.

Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the small advance team of monitors is facing great difficulty in stemming the fighting between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and opposition groups.

"When they leave, the exchanges start again," Fawzi told U.N. Television in Geneva, referring to the monitors. "We have credible reports that … these people who approach the observers may be approached by security forces or Syrian army and harassed or arrested or even worse, perhaps killed."

Annan, meanwhile, reportedly told the U.N. Security Council that the situation in Syria was bleak and called for the deployment of the full 300-member monitor force authorized by the council to verify what is happening there. The monitors are part of a peace plan set up to end the fighting in Syria.

But activists say Assad's forces have continued to shell cities and shoot protesters regardless of the peace plan and cease-fire.

In the Damascus suburb of Duma, a day after U.N. monitors were greeted with a large antigovernment demonstration, shells rained down on the town, killing 10 people, including the chief physician with the Red Crescent, activists said.

Video showed heavy black smoke rising from a building Tuesday just as another shell hit. "Duma is being shelled," a man says breathlessly in the video.

More than 30 people were reported killed nationwide, and in a central neighborhood of Damascus a car bomb exploded, injuring at least one person. Shooting and explosions were reported elsewhere, including Homs, Hama and Dara.

In a statement, activists in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani said they risked their lives to meet with the monitors and that "intelligence agents listed the names of the activists who met with the U.N. delegation, and listed those activists as armed and dangerous criminals who must be prosecuted and executed."

In a closed briefing Tuesday, Annan told the Security Council that the situation in Syria was "entirely contrary to the will of the international community," and he expressed alarm at reports that government troops had entered the central city of Hama firing automatic weapons, diplomats told the Associated Press.

Annan reportedly said it was necessary to get the additional U.N. monitors positioned quickly: "We need eyes and ears on the ground, able to move quickly and freely."

But activists have already become impatient with what they see as the inability of the monitors to quell the violence and brief tours that don't provide the chance to observe all the destruction and heavy weapons still stationed inside towns.

The Zabadani activists said the U.N. monitors met with them for only 10 minutes when they visited the town that months ago was the scene of fierce fighting between rebels and government forces. Activists said they attempted to give three monitors — the rest remained in the vehicle — a list of detainees and those killed but were told that was not part of the mission.

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