Heed Balkan lessons for a fragmenting Syria and revise Kofi Annan plan

Kofi Annan's peace plan is failing to stop violence and ensure a political dialogue in Syria. To avoid a Balkans-like tragedy, an updated plan must include negotiations between Bashar al-Assad's regime and the opposition and deploy armed UN peacekeepers.

Chief of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood, addresses a news conference May 9 in Deraa, where a bomb exploded close to the convoy of UN monitors in Syria under Kofi Annan's ceasefire deal. Op-ed contributor and former Kosovo negotiator Veton Surroi says 'leaving the Syrian people only to themselves is to sentence them to a prolonged war and bloodletting.'

Syria is not on the path to peace through the present form of Kofi Annan's six-point plan, supported by the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The plan is based on the good will of President Bashar al-Assad to stop the repression of political dissent and punitive military actions against communities where an insurrection has arisen over the last year. The plan also presupposes that once the repression and the killing have stopped, a “dialogue on transition” will begin.

The Syrian authorities have no incentive to change the present pattern of behavior. The Security Council foresaw 30 UN monitors in Syria, expanding the number to 300. The next weeks and months can be spent uselessly arguing whether instead of 300 there should be 3,000, but the pattern of behavior will not change, as the Balkans can teach us.

Throughout the 1990s the international community had far more monitors in the Balkans (even peacekeepers in Bosnia), but that did not stop the butchery. The effort to stop killing through monitoring relies on exposure and shame as a restraining moral imperative. But a regime that has already killed an estimated 10,000 people in the past 14 months has lost moral considerations of that sort, if it had them earlier.

It is not only defiance that comes from the regime now, there is also the element of fear: Those who have killed so far fear the retribution of the future, especially if the opposition continues requesting the head of the president as an unrealistic precondition.

Indeed, the regime is not only continuing to kill, monitors or no monitors, but it is also claiming that within this framework of violence it is conducting a reforming process, through multiparty elections.

Mr. Annan's six-point plan, therefore, is failing to both stop violence in Syria and ensure a political dialogue. The Assad regime is assuming that it can drag its feet with the implementation of the plan for as long as there is no other alternative on the horizon. It is assuming, as did former President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia throughout the Yugoslav disintegration, that the West has no stomach for an international intervention against it.

And it seems that the Syrian regime is presently right.

The calculation is that the West fears that an intervention will move the country toward disintegration along sectarian and ethnic lines. This Balkan nightmare scenario of carved out mini-states of Alawites, Kurds, and Druze, among others, associated with waves of ethnic and identity cleansing would be exponentially more threatening as the international environment is taken into account.

How will all this reflect on Turkey, the Kurdish question, the Golan Heights, Lebanon? And, who would run post-Assad Syria? Even if there were a will for intervention, would it have to go the Kosovo way, without full international legitimacy?

The regime is raising the ante based on these Western fears, especially in a presidential election year in the US. But then, there is no need for nightmare scenarios: The International Committee of the Red Cross is saying that already there are indications of civil war in parts of the country.

The continuation of the killings in Syria will likely not subside, and things can arguably get even worse, with a spiral of violence radicalizing the society as a whole.

Annan's six-point plan ought to be urgently revisited by the US, Russia, and European Union members at the Security Council. The plan must immediately upgrade two of its points.

First, it needs to spell out the transition in Syria in explicit terms.

Transition is not what Mr. Assad is doing at the moment, pretending to hold multiparty elections while neighborhoods are being shelled. Nor is it realistic to expect that transition will mean Assad’s upfront resignation as requested by the opposition. Transition should mean an internationally monitored process to establish democratic institutions, through an electoral process conducted in a peaceful environment.

That means a transition that starts with a presidential election within the next six months, prepared through a round table between the Assad government and the opposition as represented by the opposition Syrian National Council (with significant representation in it from the Local Coordination Committees). This round table must be mediated by an international third party. The rough legal preconditions for such a process are already vaguely in place, with a new constitution passed in February that Assad claims opens up the country for democracy.

Second, an updated Annan plan needs to spell out security. In order to conduct a transitional political process, there needs to be a radical change of behavior on the ground. The Army needs to go back to the barracks and stay there, while at the same time the Syrian National Council needs to call for a halt in any insurgent guerrilla activity from the Free Syrian Army.

The UN should deploy lightly armed peacekeepers, under a neutral (say, Scandinavian) command, establishing themselves at the perimeters of the cities. In the Ministry of Interior, a senior international police mission should monitor basic policing activities as part of the preparations for a peaceful electoral process.

The Annan mandate for international monitors in Syria will end in July. There is no need to wait for the end of their mandate to understand that they cannot change the situation. Much earlier than the mandate expires, within the next 45 days, there ought to be an upgrade in the six-point plan.

Within this time frame, the US, Russia, and the EU, consulting with the Arab League, should prepare the conditions needed for a negotiation between the Assad government and the Syrian opposition. This can be established under a Chapter VII UN Security Council resolution.

The terms of reference for this negotiation should include non-negotiable principles, such as renouncing violence in the political process and preserving the integrity and sovereignty of Syria as well as its multiethnic and multicultural (sectarian) character. They should also include the necessary changes for free and fair elections (non-discriminatory clauses, freedom of speech and expression clauses, etc.). Assad should understand that further use of Army and uniformed or non-uniformed repression will be interpreted, for the sponsors of this resolution, as a threat to regional peace.

The Troika (the US, Russia, and the EU), through a consultation process among the Syrian parties, should also help in expanding the agenda for the negotiation. Among other issues to discuss would be the community rights charter – a bill of rights for the Syrians who find themselves in a minority position – as an essential precondition for a country that moves from minority to majority rule.

Mediators and diplomats have repeated that Syrians should ultimately find their own way to the future. This sounds right, and it should be so. But leaving the Syrian people only to themselves is to sentence them to a prolonged war and bloodletting. This is a conflict that will not be won by force: The regime will not have the power to stop by force the will of the majority, and the opposition cannot defeat the Syrian Army as it is today, and for some time to come.

The international community cannot stand by, or rely on formulas such as those that have been defeated already by the tragedy of the Balkans.

Veton Surroi is a journalist, writer, and politician. He was a senior negotiator for Kosovo in the Rambouillet peace talks in 1999 and the Vienna status talks from 2005 to 2007.

© 2012 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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