300 monitors should be sent to Syria to stop violence: Annan spokesman

GENEVA Fri Apr 20, 2012 7:14am EDT

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations should send 300 monitors to Syria as soon as possible to try to stop a wave of killing and violence that a ceasefire has failed to halt, a spokesman for U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said on Friday.

Seven unarmed U.N. observers are in Syria monitoring a week-old truce, with two to follow on Monday, and the full advance team of 30 due to be deployed in the coming week, the spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said.

But preparations are already under way for the arrival of up to 300 more observers, whose deployment he said he hoped the U.N. Security Council would approve in the next two to three days.

"We are preparing for the deployment because we feel that it is going to happen sooner or later because it must happen," Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva.

"The situation on the ground is not good, as we all know. It's a very fragile ceasefire, there are casualties every day, there are incidents every day, and we have to do everything we can to stop what's going on - the killing, the violence in all forms," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a progress report on Thursday, said Syria had not fully withdrawn its troops and heavy weapons from towns as agreed under Annan's peace plan to end 13 months of violence. He recommended raising the number of observers to up to 300.

Like in all U.N. peacekeeping operations, the monitors require support, including vehicles, communications equipment and medical supplies, "all kinds of gear to help them in their very difficult and risky job", Fawzi said.

"As soon as the Security Council adopts a resolution authorizing up to 300 monitors on the ground, we will be ready to deploy very, very rapidly," he added.

FRAGILE CEASEFIRE

On Thursday, Syria and the United Nations signed an agreement setting out the working conditions for hundreds of observers to monitor a ceasefire, but fierce diplomatic wrangling lies ahead to persuade the West the mission has the authority and power to ensure peace.

The agreement stipulates "unfettered access" and freedom for monitors to travel and contact people within the framework of their mandate, Fawzi said. The terms also apply to the full team of up to 300, he said.

"The Syrian authorities have been cooperating with our teams on the ground, up to a certain extent," he said, adding that there had been the usual back and forth in the negotiations.

"But there was what we believe to be a genuine desire on the Syrian side to conclude this agreement and to support the deployment of monitors," he said.

The Security Council - divided between Western countries that want to topple Assad, and Russia and China, which support him - is working towards agreeing a proposal to send a larger observer force. Russia has made it clear it wants the 15-member council to move to expand the small mission now, while the West is hesitating.

Asked whether the deployment of the second wave, the full 300 observers, would only take place if the ceasefire held, Fawsi said that member states were "right to be concerned about the situation on the ground".

"We don't want to put our people in situations of unnecessary risk. But let's face the facts. It's a risky situation, the ceasefire is fragile.

However we are not going to sit back and wait any longer.

Mr. Annan feels very strongly that it is important to have a presence on the ground because the presence of monitors who will observe what's going on, monitor what's going on, and report what both sides are doing will create a new momentum and it's already changing the political dynamics on the ground.

So we want these monitors to be deployed as quickly as possible even given the current fragile ceasefire," he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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