March 31, 2012 / 10:12 AM / 8 years ago

Syria needs time for safe army withdrawal: official

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria has said a year-long revolt against President Bashar al-Assad is now over, but that it would retain its right to use its forces to “maintain security” before withdrawing from cities in line with a U.N.-backed peace plan.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told Syria TV that United Nations-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan had acknowledged the government’s right to respond to armed violence. Makdissi said that handling this was a Syrian matter.

He said Syria would cooperate with the United Nations to “remove any excuses” for further international pressure.

“The battle to topple the state is over. Our goal now is to ensure stability and create a perspective for reform and development in Syria while preventing others from sabotaging the path of reform,” Makdissi told the state news channel late on Friday.

He said Syria’s conditions on its acceptance of Annan’s proposals included recognition of the government’s sovereignty and its right to security.

“The other requirement is not to harm Syrian stability ... When security can be maintained for civilians, the army will leave. It is not waiting for Kofi Annan to leave, this is a Syrian matter.”

Annan’s spokesman has said the plan makes clear Syria must be first to withdraw troops and stop violence, saying “the deadline is now.” His proposal says Syria must stop putting troops into cities and begin taking them out.

The text of the plan states: “The Syrian government should immediately cease troop movement towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centers, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers.”

“As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism,” the plan says.

Western diplomats say implementation of a ceasefire - the main thrust of Annan’s six-point peace plan - depends on in the sequencing of the army pullback and ending rebel armed attacks.

They say it would be impractical to expect a complete government pullout before the rebels are obliged to respond.

In 2011, an Arab League observer mission sent to oversee the promised withdrawal of the Syrian army from opposition flashpoints collapsed partly over the issue of when and how troops could be withdrawn.

Syria and its allies have in recent days claimed political victory over an opposition struggle to end four decades of Assad family rule, noting that Annan’s U.N. plan for political negotiations has dropped an Arab League call for Assad to go.

Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Alistair Lyon

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