UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday it was the Syrian government’s responsibility to guarantee freedom of movement within the country for UN observers monitoring the nation’s five-day ceasefire, which appeared to be rapidly unraveling as regime forces pounded the opposition stronghold of Homs with artillery shells and mortars, activists said.
Even though the overall level of violence across Syria has dropped significantly since the truce took effect, government attacks over the weekend raised fresh doubts about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s commitment to special envoy Kofi Annan’s plan to end 13 months of violence and launch talks on the country’s political future.
An advance team of six observers arrived in Damascus and was negotiating the mission’s ground rules with Syrian authorities.
Ban, speaking to reporters in Brussels, called on the al-Assad regime to ensure the observers are not impeded in any way in their mission.
“It is the Syrian government’s responsibility to guarantee freedom of access, freedom of movement within the country,” he said. “They should be allowed to freely move to any places where they will be able to observe this cessation of violence.”
Ban called the ceasefire “very fragile,” but said it was essential that it hold so that an “inclusive political dialogue can continue.”
He said opposition forces “should also fully cooperate.”
He said the UN plans to increase the advance team to 30 people, all of them unarmed, and that the UN Security Council is expected to authorize a formal monitoring team of about 250 people later this week.
Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said the advance team, led by Moroccan Colonel Ahmed Himmiche, met yesterday with Syrian Foreign Ministry officials to discuss ground rules, including what freedom of movement the observers would have.