Syria too dangerous for monitors to resume operations: U.N.

UNITED NATIONS Tue Jun 26, 2012 1:52pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The increasing danger in Syria makes it impossible for the U.N. observer mission, which suspended its work earlier this month, to resume full-scale operations at the moment, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

Ladsous said "the ongoing violence continues to prevent UNSMIS from carrying out its mandated tasks to monitor and report on the cessation of violence and support implementation of the other aspects of the six-point (peace) plan," according to a partial transcript of his remarks obtained by Reuters.

He made clear, however, that the mission, known as UNSMIS, was still engaged in limited monitoring activity. "The mission is still observing ongoing military operations in and around our team sites," Ladsous said.

He also told the 15-nation council the Syrian government has barred the unarmed UNSMIS monitors from using satellite telephones, a diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"Satellite telephones for UNSMIS (are) still not allowed by (the) Syrian government, key tool to its operations, despite repeated requests," the diplomat said Ladsous told the council.

The head of the U.N. mission in Syria, General Robert Mood, announced on June 16 that the mission was suspending operations due to the increasing risks to the 300-strong force of military observers, who have been targeted with gunfire and bomb attacks.

International mediator and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's deputy Nasser al-Kidwa told the council via video link that the situation on the ground in Syria has not improved, with massive human rights violations and more civilians being killed every day, several diplomats said.

The council diplomat said Kidwa told the council that there has been an "increasing number of asymmetric attacks on government forces by opposition fighters."

Kidwa also said there was "no political dialogue, increasing militarization, and sectarianism" in the 16-month conflict, which the United Nations says has killed at least 10,000 people.

"POLITICAL TRANSITION"

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will attend a meeting on the escalating conflict in Syria that international mediator Kofi Annan is attempting to organize in Geneva this weekend.

"Sergei Lavrov has officially accepted the invitation to come to the actual meeting in Geneva on Saturday, June 30," Churkin told reporters ahead of a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Syria. "We attach great importance to this meeting.

Participants of the meeting are to include the five permanent Security Council members and key regional players. Annan has said that Iran should attend, but diplomats say the United States, Saudi Arabia and others dislike that idea.

Kidwa told council members that Annan would only hold the meeting if there was a preliminary agreement on guidelines for a "political transition" in Syria and steps the Security Council could take to pressure the government and opposition to comply with Annan's six-point peace plan and start a political process.

According to an email from a diplomat present at the meeting, Kidwa said Annan made clear "that states with influence must agree on these guidelines in an outcome. Contact group must not be a talking shop. There must be a meaningful outcome. Otherwise not worth holding the meeting."

U.N. diplomats said there was no agreement yet and it was unclear if the meeting would take place.

French U.N. envoy Gerard Araud told reporters that Kidwa said Annan would make a decision later on Tuesday about whether or not to hold the meeting on Saturday in Geneva.

Araud and his British counterpart Mark Lyall Grant say that at least 15,000 have been killed in President Bashar al-Assad's assault on an increasingly militarized opposition that is determined to oust him.

If the violence does not decrease soon, Ladsous and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are considering recommending that the council either reduce the number of, or eliminate, UNSMIS' unarmed military observers, leaving what would effectively be a civilian liaison office in place, diplomats say.

UNSMIS' 90-day mandate expires on July 20.

Diplomats said Britain, France and other European delegations are also keen to push for a new Security Council resolution to make Annan's peace plan legally binding for the government and rebels. This could open the door to U.N. sanctions, something Russia and China have repeatedly rejected.

Moscow and Beijing have vetoed two Western-Arab-backed council resolutions that condemned Damascus and threatened it with sanctions. Several Western diplomats said they were ready to brave the possibility of another council veto.

(Editing by Vicki Allen and Eric Walsh)

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