Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan was on Thursday appointed U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, a day before a major international conference begins in Tunisia to discuss and devise ways to tackle the deteriorating security situation in the restive Middle East nation.
The U.N. said in a statement that Annan, who had played an important role in resolving several long-standing conflicts in recent years, would "provide good offices aimed at bringing an end to all violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis."
The Arab League-sponsored "Friends of Syria" conference in Tunisia will be attended by representatives of 70 nations, including the United States, France, Britain, Turkey and the Arab States. Notably, China and Russia will not be attending the conference.
The conference comes just over three weeks after China, along with Russia, vetoed a U.N. resolution endorsing an Arab League plan for Syria when it was put to vote at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) on February 4. The plan required Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and authorize his deputy to initiate peace talks with the Opposition for forming a national unity government.
Both Russia and China insisted that the Arab League plan amounted to regime change in Syria. Since the February 4 veto, Moscow and Beijing have been attempting to mediate talks between the Syrian regime and the Opposition for resolving the crisis. The two nations had also vetoed a Western resolution condemning repression in Syria in October.
At the Tunisia conference, Western nations and the 22-member Arab League are expected to serve an ultimatum to the Assad regime to provide immediate humanitarian access to areas worst-affected by the ongoing security crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Syria, or face further sanctions and other punitive measures.
Ahead of the conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged all participating nations to "aggressively implement" all measures they had already agreed, and said: "We look forward to concrete progress on three fronts - providing humanitarian relief, increasing pressure on the regime, and preparing for a democratic transition."
Separately, British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a unified international front to deal with the Syrian crisis, while French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the conference needed to devise methods to exert additional pressure on Syria and insisted that France would not consider the option of military intervention unless it had an international mandate.
Syria has been witnessing a popular uprising against the Assad regime. Reports emerging from the country indicate that the government is continuing to use tanks and hundreds of heavily-armed troops in military operations to put down the unrest in Homs as well as several other Syrian cities and towns. Rights groups say at least 60 people were killed in security crackdowns and military operations across Syria on Thursday. But their accounts cannot be independently verified as most international media are barred from the country.
According to the U.N., more than 5,400 people have died since pro-democracy protests broke out last year. The government, however, blames "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign mercenaries for the violence. It also warned against any foreign military intervention.
Despite opposition from China and Russia, the U.N. General Assembly voted last week to approve a resolution condemning the Syrian regime for its continued suppression of dissent. UNSC resolutions cannot be vetoed in the General Assembly and are non-binding. Also, the EU, the U.S. and Turkey have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Syria, and have indicated that they aim to tighten the sanctions if the crisis is not resolved quickly.
In the wake of reports about the deteriorating security situation, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon directed Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, "to visit Syria to assess the humanitarian situation and renew the call for urgent humanitarian access."
It has also been reported that the U.N. has identified several senior Syrian officials, including President Assad, for facing possible investigations for committing crimes against humanity over the killings of unarmed civilians, shelling of civilian areas and torturing the wounded.
by RTT Staff Writer
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