UN envoy Brahimi warns of ‘Somalization’ of Syria

AFP, DAMASCUS

Wed, Oct 30, 2013 - Page 6

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, in Syria yesterday on the most sensitive leg of a regional push for peace talks, has warned of the “Somalization” of the war-ravaged country.

His grim warning came as fighting prevented chemical weapons inspectors from visiting two sites, although UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the mission to destroy Syria’s arsenal by the middle of next year was still on track.

Brahimi has been seeking to build on the momentum of last month’s US-Russian deal to eradicate Syria’s chemical weapons in order to launch the so-called Geneva II peace talks proposed for next month.

However, the talks have been cast into doubt by the increasingly divided opposition’s refusal to attend unless Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agrees to step down, a demand rejected by Damascus.

In an interview with a French Web site published on Monday, Brahimi said al-Assad could contribute to the transition to a “new” Syria but not as the country’s leader.

“What history teaches us is that after a crisis like this there is no going back,” the Algerian diplomat told the Jeune Afrique Web site ahead of his first visit to Syria since December last year, when he angered the regime by insisting that all powers be handed over to a transitional government.

He said “the entire world will not be present” at the talks, but said the alternative to a political settlement could be a failed state in the heart of the Middle East.

“The real danger is a sort of ‘Somalization,’ but even more deep and lasting than what we have seen in Somalia,” he said.

More than 115,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Syria’s 31-month conflict, which erupted after the regime launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests.

In the latest blow to peace efforts, 19 Islamist rebel groups issued a statement on Sunday saying anyone who attends the Geneva talks would be committing “treason” and “would have to answer for it before our courts,” implying they could face execution.

Meanwhile, the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Monday said its inspectors had been unable to reach the last two of 23 disclosed chemical weapons sites for “security reasons.”

Ban said the inspectors were still on track to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons production equipment by Friday, the first major deadline of a timetable set out by the UN Security Council.