EU urges Turkish restraint over plane incident

LUXEMBOURG Mon Jun 25, 2012 12:02pm EDT

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - European Union foreign ministers called on Monday for restraint from Ankara after Syria's shooting down of a Turkish military plane, and said they would increase sanctions pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"We're very concerned about what's happened and very concerned for the family of the two pilots who are missing," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "We will be obviously looking to Turkey to be restrained in its response."

The ministers were meeting in Luxembourg for a regular conference, a day before a scheduled NATO meeting to discuss how to react to Friday's incident, which Turkey says occurred in international airspace and without warning. Turkey is a member of NATO and a candidate for EU entry.

The ministers expanded European sanctions against Assad's government, adding one person and six companies and other entities to a list of targets.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the new names were linked to banking, military and state media. Details will be published on Tuesday when new sanctions come into effect.

With these additions, the European Union has now imposed asset freezes and visa bans on more than 129 people responsible for or associated with violent repression against Syria's civilian population, and an asset freeze on 49 entities.

Despite the European Union's growing sanctions list, violence has increased over the past month in Syria, where Assad has been trying to suppress a 16-month-old revolt.

Russia and China, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power, have blocked efforts by Western powers to condemn Assad or call for his removal.

Western powers hope a "Friends of Syria" meeting on July 6 in Paris will persuade more countries to join the sanctions.

About 50 nations, including the United States, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, will take part. The group's previous meetings have yielded little because of political stalemate and reluctance to act militarily.

Hague said EU countries could consider new types of sanctions in future if the violence continued.

"I think if the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate and no progress is made in the implementation of the Annan plan over the coming weeks, then we will be looking for more sweeping sanctions in the future," he said.

PRESSURE AND RESPONSE

EU ministers also said the provision of insurance on the sale of weapons to Syria was part of an existing EU arms embargo, in a move to curb deliveries. A ship carrying Russian helicopters to Syria was briefly turned back this month when its insurance was cut.

EU ministers said the United Nations should decide a "comprehensive" package of sanctions against Assad.

"The EU strongly condemns the brutal violence and massacres of civilians, many of them children and women," they said in a statement. "It is also appalled by reports on the use of children as human shields."

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has so far eschewed bellicose rhetoric over the plane incident and has seemed to back away from any suggestion of an armed response.

Calling Tuesday's meeting, he invoked a NATO article providing for urgent consultations if a member considers its security interests threatened.

"Military intervention in Syria is out of the question," said Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal. "It is not a matter of consideration for the Dutch government. That is also at stake in the ... context of NATO."

The United Nations has said more than 10,000 people have been killed by Syrian government forces, while Syria has said at least 2,600 members of the military and security forces have been killed by "Islamist terrorists".

The recent intensification of fighting has raised fears in Turkey of a flood of refugees and a slide into ethnic and religious warfare that could envelop the region.

(Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Andrew Roche)

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