Russia resisted Western pleas on Tuesday to help remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power despite escalating hostilities that have battered a UN peace mission.
“We believe that nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be in power and who should not,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters after a G20 summit at the Mexican beach resort of Los Cabos.
“It is not changing the regime that is important, but that after changing the regime, which should be done constitutionally, violence is stopped and peace comes to the country,” he said.
US President Barack Obama said he told Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) on the sidelines of the summit that al-Assad could no longer remain in power after the massacres of large numbers of civilians.
“I wouldn’t suggest that at this point the United States and the rest of the international community are aligned with Russia and China ... but I do think they recognize the grave dangers of all out civil war,” Obama said.
However, French President Francois Hollande said Russia “is playing its role to permit a transition.”
“Those who are massacring their people today cannot play a role in the future of Syria,” he said.
Meanwhile, the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) told the UN Security Council of the intensifying violence in the country, but said the nearly 300 unarmed monitors were “morally obliged” to stay.
“We are going nowhere,” Major General Robert Mood told reporters after the closed meeting.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous reaffirmed the message.
“We have decided, for the time being, not to touch, not to modify, but rather to maintain the integrity of the mission,” he told reporters.
The future of UNSMIS is being discussed as various diplomatic initiatives have been launched on Syria and the mission’s current mandate ends on July 20, Ladsous added.
Highlighting the dangers faced by the nearly 300 unarmed monitors in Syria, Mood told the meeting that UN vehicles had been hit 10 times by “direct fire” and hundreds of times by “indirect fire.” He said nine UN vehicles had been hit in the past eight days alone.
The use of improvised explosive devices and snipers has increased, causing many of the mounting casualties, Mood told the envoys as his team struggles to shore up a ceasefire supposed to take effect from April 12.
However, he insisted the suspension of operations did not mean an “abandonment” of Syria. UNMIS was “morally obliged not to turn away” and “must redouble efforts,” Mood was quoted as saying.
Earlier UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the UN Security Council to put “sustained pressure” on al-Assad, saying he was “gravely concerned” about the rising death toll, a top aide said.
“A truly joint effort by the council, one that delivers unified and sustained pressure to demand compliance in full with the six-point plan is urgently needed,” Assistant UN Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez Taranco said. “Otherwise we may be reaching the day when it will be too late to stop the crisis spiraling out of control.”
In other developments, 28 soldiers and a Shiite Muslim cleric were among 39 people killed in violence across Syria yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
At least 20 troops were killed in fierce clashes with rebel fighters in the northwestern province of Latakia, the Britain-based watchdog said.