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Kofi Annan admits Syria plan failing, calls for international action

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the UN's special envoy to Syria, essentially admitted his mediation efforts have failed in a speech at the UN and laid most of the blame at the feet of Bashar al-Assad.

By Staff writer / June 7, 2012

Special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan addresses the United Nation's General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York June 7, during a meeting on the situation in Syria.

Allison Joyce/Reuters

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In a hastily convened UN General Assembly meeting following a massacre of dozens of unarmed civilians in Syria yesterday, Special Envoy Kofi Annan all but admitted that his six-point plan to bring peace to Syria has been a dismal failure.

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In a speech filled with condemnation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Mr. Annan said that, while he appealed to the Syrian leader directly a week ago to restrain his armed forces and the irregular shabiha militias working with them, the pace of the slaughter has only increased. He said the militias in particular appear to have been given "free rein" by the government. 

On Friday, 108 civilians were massacred in a group of villages known as Houla in Homs Province. First, government forces shelled the area and then, according to the UN, shabiha moved in with guns and knives. Among the slaughtered were 49 children. Early accounts out of Mazraat al-Qubair, near the city of Hama, from yesterday, suggest a similar series of events unfolded there yesterday. The UN says 78 people were murdered there, though has not been able to independently confirm events. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said unarmed UN observers came under rifle fire when they attempted to visit the area.

The international moral outrage over Syria's war has reached a boiling point, but what is to be done about it, if anything, is still being worked out. Mr. Annan spoke of the need to maintain international unity on Syria and said that "the international community now must take that unity to a new level." Is that a call for military action? Perhaps. He also said "it is ... our collective responsibility to act quickly, the process can't be open-ended. The longer we wait the more radicalized and polarized the situation will become." 

With the regime upping the ante with the two major massacres of civilians in a week, any hope of cooling the situation with talk in the short term has evaporated. The sectarian nature of the splits within Syria, with the minority Alawite sect that Assad belongs to rallying around him, and the country's majority Sunni Arab population in an uproar, makes a negotiated settlement even less likely. While government forces have hoped that major doses of terror like those delivered in Mazraat al-Qubair and Houla would shock the uprising into acquiescence, more likely is that they've set in motion a cycle of revenge that will feed Syria's civil war for some time to come.

Fact is, there isn't international unity over Syria. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her demand today that "Assad must transfer power and depart Syria," but the US position, until now at least, has been that it wouldn't consider military action without UN Security Council authorization. And Russia and China, which both wield vetoes on the council, continue to staunchly oppose international action. In a joint statement yesterday, Russia and China insisted they are "decisively against attempts to regulate the Syrian crisis with outside military intervention" and also said they oppose efforts to remove Mr. Assad from power.

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