* Annan says Assad cannot resist change
* Syrian government responds to envoy's peace plan
* Former U.N. chief heads for China after Russia
By Thomas Grove
MOSCOW, March 26 U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi
Annan said on Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's
government could not resist the "winds of transformation" but
said it was too early to introduce a timeline for a peaceful
Annan spoke at a Moscow airport before departing for Beijing
on the second leg of a trip designed to shore up support for his
peace mission from the two nations that have been Assad's
strongest backers in a year of bloodshed.
"It is not practical to put forth timetables and timelines
when you haven't got agreement from the parties," Annan, who met
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov on Sunday, told journalists.
"This cannot be allowed to drag on indefinitely and as I
have told the parties on the ground, they cannot resist the
transformational winds that are blowing."
Syria is Russia's firmest foothold in the Middle East,
buying billions of dollars worth of weapons and hosting a
Mediterranean supply and maintenance facility that is Russia's
only naval base outside the former Soviet Union.
Annan said however Russia was "determined to work with me
and the parties to bring about a peaceful solution," and that he
hoped to receive similar signals of support in Beijing.
Russia and China have shielded Assad from U.N. Security
Council condemnation by vetoing two Western-backed resolutions
over the bloodshed, in which the United Nations says government
forces have killed more than 8,000 people.
However, both countries approved a non-binding Security
Council statement last week endorsing Annan's mission, and
Russia has lately criticised Assad's handling of the crisis.
The former U.N. chief is promoting a peace plan that
includes demands for a ceasefire, the immediate withdrawal of
heavy armour from residential areas, access for humanitarian aid
and a political dialogue between the government and opposition.
Annan's spokesman said on Monday Syria has formally
responded to the six-point plan, but did not give any details.
"Mr Annan is studying it and will respond very shortly," his
spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement.
Annan said it was time for Syria to change: "The only way to
deal with this is through reform, through change, change that
respects individual human dignity, rule of law and human
He said: "We have asked the government to take the initial
steps as a gesture of goodwill to its own people ... and accept
the cessation of hostilities."
Annan added that as part of the peace process a U.N.
observer force might travel to Syria to "ensure that the parties
would honour and respect the commitments they are going to
Medvedev offered Russia's full support for Annan's peace
efforts on Sunday, but Russian officials suggested foreign
backing of Assad's foes was the main obstacle to peace.
Annan said Russia's Foreign Ministry "is prepared to work
with me not only in support of the plans and proposals I have
put on the table but also in encouraging the parties to move in
the same direction and work with me in order to settle this