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Terrorism & Security

Arab League's Syria mission faces mounting criticism

Last week the criticism focused on the questionable credentials of the Arab League Syria mission's leader. This week it is about whether the mission is capable of doing its job.

By Staff writer / January 4, 2012

In this photo, Arab League monitors check Al-Sabil area, in Daraa, Syria, on Tuesday. The Arab League called Tuesday for an emergency meeting to discuss whether to withdraw the group's monitors from Syria, where security forces are still killing protesters despite the observers' presence, an Arab official said.

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Syrian and international activists are raining criticism on the controversial Arab League mission that was dispatched to Syria last week to monitor government compliance with orders to end its crackdown on the country's opposition movement. Last week the outcry focused on the dubious human rights record of the general heading the mission. This week there are concerns that the observers are being misled by the government.

The key question: Is the mission merely a facade to make it seem like the international community is taking action in Syria, or does it just need time because of the difficult circumstances?

Britain-based activist Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activist Mustafa Osso in Syria told the Associated Press that government officials are "changing neighborhood signs to confuse the monitors, taking them to areas loyal to the regime and painting army vehicles to look like those of the police — in order to claim the army has pulled out of flashpoint regions."

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi admitted that violence continues, but wouldn't denounce the mission, citing the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal of tanks from cities, The Los Angeles Times reports.

"Yes, there is still shooting, and yes, there are still snipers," Mr. Arabi said from the league's Cairo headquarters. But the mission found it "hard to say who is shooting whom," he added.

The Local Coordination Committees, one of the leading anti-Assad groups, said in a statement to Arabi that the observers lacked professionalism. The group estimated that almost 400 people had been killed since the observers began arriving in Syria last month, Agence France-Presse reports.

Opposition groups say that the mission – consisting of about 70 monitors on the ground, with 30 more coming soon – is too small and easily "misled" to provide an accurate account to the Arab League, according to the LA Times.

"Either the Arab observers are blind or they are working for the regime," said an activist in Homs, where observers went first. The man, who said his name was Abu Rami, said there were "checkpoints 'full of soldiers' in the city and tanks hidden on its outskirts that could be back inside within minutes. … 'This is not a withdrawal'."

According to Reuters, activists report having difficulty meeting with monitors out of earshot of the monitors' government security escorts. Activist Mohammed Abul-Khair told the news agency that he managed to get information on detainees and suspected detention centers to the monitors who said "they had found it hard to meet activists until now, but appeared sympathetic."

Others said the team seemed unprepared or unwilling. They said the monitors had set up an office in a government-controlled area hard for activists to reach, and complained that many observers did not bring cameras or notepads on visits.

"I don't think they are sympathetic, I think they are afraid," said activist Abu Faisal, also present at the meeting. "We wanted to take them to one of the narrow alleys where there had been a lot of shelling. They wouldn't go past the buildings where there were snipers.

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