With 24 out of the 300 United Nations military observers authorized by the Security Council for Syria already on the ground and the rest planned to arrive by the end of May, it was now up to all parties in the conflict-wracked Middle East country to stop the violence, which continued to take an unacceptable toll, the Organization’s peacekeeping head told correspondents this morning.
“It is up to the parties to demonstrate their desire to cease all forms of violence,” Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said at a Headquarters press conference on the status of deployment of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS). He called upon all parties to ensure that the commitment to cease fire was observed. “Reports received clearly show that all the parties need to take further steps to ensure a cessation of violence in all its forms”.
Mr. Ladsous said that deployment was rapid, following the two Security Council resolutions establishing the Mission, adopted on 14 and 21 April, respectively. The advance team established by the first resolution arrived within 30 hours of its authorization. Major General Robert Mood of Norway, appointed by the Secretary-General to head the Mission, had also arrived in Damascus, he added, describing him as a senior commander with considerable experience in peacekeeping. He had “publicly demonstrated” his goal to reach out to all Syrians as an impartial actor whose purpose was to end the appalling violence.
The full contingent of unarmed observers, he recalled, was authorized by the second resolution for an initial period of 90 days to monitor the declared cessation of violence as well as to support the full implementation of the six-point peace plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria, Kofi Annan.
Though the number of observers was as yet small, their presence was able to bring calm whenever they appeared in conflict areas, Mr. Ladsous said, reporting that there was usually no use of heavy weapons when they were around, though lighter fighting often continued.
He called on all parties to respect their impartiality, assist them in fulfilling their mandate and pursue political issues in a peaceful manner. Warning the parties that the Mission “is not an open-ended exercise”, he said “It is now time to silence the guns and cease all abuses. That is the effort we are engaged in”.
In response to correspondent’s questions on who was violating the cessation of violence, he said there were not yet enough observers to say which side was committing more, but it was important to note that both sides were involved. There were still heavy weapons, including howitzers, in all areas of conflict.
To questions on the operations of the observers, he said they had been in major centres of conflict, including Damascus, Homs and Hama, and relied on mobility rather than surveillance technology, although they were supplied with armoured cars, personal protection and communication equipment. They conducted patrols all day and also at night and investigated explosions and movements.
Their safety was of concern, he said, noting that it was obviously a risky situation, and there had already been worrisome encounters, some involving members of the opposition. Considerable judgment on the part of the observers themselves was required, in addition to the cooperation of the parties and the provision of safety equipment.
He stressed the importance of their freedom of movement. “Mobility is actually the one thing that can ensure that they do their job,” he said. There had been restrictions at first, based purportedly on the observers’ safety, but now they were able to go where they wanted and engage local citizens. It was still a matter in process, however, he added.
Asked about obstacles to the Mission’s deployment, he said that the atatus of mission agreement was still under discussion, but he hoped it would be finalized fairly rapidly. The peacekeeping personnel were meeting with Syrian authorities on it every day in Damascus, as well as in New York with the Syrian delegation. “The lawyers have to be satisfied,” he commented.
In addition, visas had to be obtained for the observers and three had already been denied, he noted, affirming that peacekeeping officials would apply no restrictions on troop offers. “If there is not sufficient cooperation, of course, we will report to the Security Council,” he said, adding that he had already done so last week. No reasons for the visa refusals were given by Syrian authorities, other than verbal comments about the Group of Friends of Syria. He could not provide the nationalities of the observers involved.
He said that observer commitments were coming in from contributors “very solidly”, and 150 observers were already being processed or deployed, but more were needed. He was confident that 300 would be on the ground by the end of the month. “More pledges coming in by the day, so I think we will do it,” he said, noting that he had made contacts with potential troop contributors before the resolutions were adopted. Training for the observers on the specificities of situation also had an impact on the speed of deployment as it lasted several days.
To other questions about contributors of both observers and civilian staff, he said that they included 24 countries, but he could not list them, promising to give consolidated figures at a later stage. They were looking at both new personnel as well as redeployments from other missions, including those in the region, such as the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and the Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), as well as others around the world.
The need for air assets was still being discussed, although the Syrians had not accepted a proposal to send United Nations helicopters. “But it is an important element of course,” he said. A study on the use of drones was also being undertaken, but that also required the consent of the Government.
The civilian component, he replied to further questions, was already operational with 35 persons, but needed to expand as well. It would provide support in reporting, establishing contacts among the population and working on human rights, gender-based violence and “all the aspects that are part of the drama that is happening in Syria”, he said.
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