A veteran Norwegian peacekeeper headed to Damascus yesterday to take charge of a UN mission overseeing a troubled truce, a day after a deadly suicide bombing fueled skepticism over its prospects.
Major General Robert Mood was already en route for the Syrian capital when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly announced his appointment late on Friday, diplomats said.
He takes over a mission that faces major obstacles and doubts before the full 300-member force approved by the UN Security Council has even gathered.
Photo: AFP / HO / SHAAM NEWS NETWORK
Mood himself has highlighted the “abyss of suspicion” between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition, in the face of an uprising that has killed more than 9,000 people since March last year, according to UN figures.
Ten civilians were among 14 people killed in renewed bloodshed on Friday, more than two weeks into a promised ceasefire, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based watchdog said two civilians died in the Damascus suicide bombing.
State media said 11 people were killed. TV footage showed gruesome images, including a severed hand and leg.
The official SANA news agency reported the Syrian interior ministry as saying “it will not tolerate the armed terrorist groups and vowed to strike with an iron fist those who are terrorizing citizens.”
The truce that went into effect on April 12 has taken a new battering each day and the EU said on Friday that it was extremely concerned” about the persistent bloodshed.
It called on Damascus to end its “violations” of the peace deal brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan.
“I am extremely concerned about the continued violence in Syria in violation of the ceasefire which should have come into effect on 12 April and despite the presence on the ground of UN observers,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said.
Ashton said it was “clear that the Syrian government is not fulfilling its obligations and is failing to meet its commitments to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons from population centers.”
She said the Syrian government “must ensure that the ceasefire holds.”
As Mood headed to Damascus to take charge of the hard-won UN mission, Norwegian Minister of Defense Espen Barth Eide highlighted the “risky” task facing the unarmed observers.
“The situation in Syria remains fragile,” Eide said. “We therefore have to have realistic expectations in terms of what the observer force can achieve. Still, our hope is that the presence of the observers may help reduce the level of violence in the country.”
Mood, 54, knows Damascus well and was there to negotiate conditions for an advance team of UN observers.
The general “brings to his new position extensive command experience and knowledge of peacekeeping attained through service at the national and international levels,” Ban said in announcing the appointment.
Mood was head of the UN Truce Supervision Organization, which monitors Middle East truces, from 2009 until last year. He was also twice part of the international force in Kosovo between 1999 and 2002.
The general has not spoken publicly since he was nominated by Ban, but highlighted the “abyss of suspicion and violence between the Syrian regime and the opposition” in a recent interview with Norwegian media.
Mood said that when he was asked to lead the advanced team, “it was an easy choice to say yes.”
“It’s worth making the effort,” he added about the mission and the peace plan that Annan clinched with the Assad government. “The Syrian people deserve to have an opportunity.”
Mood faces immediate challenges amid Western doubts about whether the Syrian government will let the monitors work freely. The presence of two UN monitors did not prevent shelling in the central city of Hama this week.
Western nations have expressed strong doubts about the dangers and poor prospects for the observer mission. The US, Britain and France have all said UN sanctions would have to be considered if the violence does not halt.
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