Syrian military must cease fire first: Annan spokesman

GENEVA Fri Mar 30, 2012 7:00am EDT

GENEVA (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must order a ceasefire without waiting for the opposition to make the first move under a peace plan proposed by international envoy Kofi Annan, Annan's spokesman said on Friday.

There has been no let-up in violence despite Assad's declared acceptance of the peace plan. Syrian artillery targeted parts of Homs on Friday and at least five people were killed in clashes around Syria, opposition activists said.

"We expect him (Assad) to implement this plan immediately," Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva. "The deadline is now."

Annan's proposal calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from cities and towns, humanitarian assistance, the release of prisoners and free movement and access for journalists. It does not hinge on Assad leaving office.

"If you read the agreement...it specifically asks the government to withdraw its troops, to cease using heavy weapons in populated centers. The very clear implication here is that the government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side and with the mediator," Fawzi said.

"The rationale is very simple. We are appealing to the stronger party to make a gesture of good faith and stop the killing. We are certain that if that happens, the opposition will follow suit."

Assad said on Thursday Syria would spare no effort to ensure the success of Annan's peace mission but that other countries must immediately stop funding and arming opposition groups.

Earlier attempts to put pressure on Assad's government to stop the crackdown, which the United Nations says has killed more than 9,000 people, were stymied by China and Russia, which twice vetoed resolutions in the U.N. Security Council.

Russia has blamed the violence on foreign terrorists, armed by foreign powers, and resisted attempts to portray Assad as the aggressor. But both China and Russia have supported the peace plan proposed by Annan, who is acting on behalf of the United Nations and the Arab League.

Asked if China and Russia agreed that Assad's forces must lay down their weapons first, Fawzi replied that they had explicitly backed all provisions of Annan's six-point plan.

Annan will brief the U.N. Security Council by video link from Geneva on Monday with an update on events in the past week, during which he flew to Beijing and Moscow.

He has also been to Cairo, Ankara and Doha and plans to visit Tehran and Riyadh, Fawzi said.

The purpose is "to impress upon those governments the importance of the unity of the international community behind this plan and to stress that this is the only plan in town".

"We are also reaching out to the opposition, because there are two parties in this crisis," Fawzi said.

Annan sent his deputy, Nasser al-Kidwa, to Istanbul for an opposition meeting a few days ago and a mainly Western and Arab "Friends of Syria" meeting that begins on Sunday, Fawzi said.

"Nasser has along with him a team from Mr. Annan's office to talk to the opposition, to convey messages to the commanders of the military groups on the ground, to appeal to them to lay down their arms and start talking," he said.

There was no date yet set for Annan's trip to Tehran, which was still being discussed with the Iranian authorities. Annan will also return to Syria "as soon as the time is right" but he has no current plans to visit Israel, Fawzi said.

(Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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