France says Assad pretending to accept peace plan

PARIS Thu Apr 5, 2012 8:40am EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Thursday he was not optimistic that a plan by international peace mediator Kofi Annan for ending fighting in Syria would succeed, and accused President Bashar al-Assad of merely pretending to be committed to it.

Fighting shows no sign of abating even though Assad agreed more than a week ago to a six-point peace plan drawn up by Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria.

"Can we be optimistic or not? I am not, because I think Bashar al-Assad is tricking us," Juppe told journalists. "He is pretending to accept Kofi Annan's 6-point plan while at the same time is still using force."

France, the first Western nation to recognize the Libyan opposition early in 2011, has led calls for Assad to step aside and championed opposition protests in Syria, where at least 10,000 people have died.

Juppe said it was vital for the agreed military withdrawal and comprehensive ceasefire to take place within the agreed 48 hour deadline after April 10.

"If this calendar is respected, an observer mission will then be deployed quickly to ensure that we are not being tricked," Juppe told reporters. "If we get 250 U.N. observers, the free access of international media and humanitarian aid, then things will change profoundly."

However, Juppe said that if Assad did not comply with the Annan plan then the international community could not indefinitely allow massacres to continue.

"We would then have to go back to the U.N. Security Council and look at all options," he said. "I am convinced the regime will not be able to hold out indefinitely. When you have massacred 10,000 of your citizens, hundreds of children, tortured men and women, then one day it catches up with you."

(Reporting by John Irish and Catherine Bremer; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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