UN envoy to Syria pins hopes for ending violence on observer mission

Kofi Annan said the observer mission was 'the only remaining chance to stabilize the country,' even though fighting has continued with observers on the ground.

Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP
United Nations Joint Special Envoy for Syria Kofi Annan delivers a statement to the media after addressing the UN Security Council in New York by videolink, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday.

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Kofi Annan, the United Nations envoy to Syria, gave a pessimistic assessment yesterday, warning that the country was on the brink of civil war and that the UN observer mission "is the only remaining chance to stabilize the country."

Mr. Annan said that the observer mission, deployed to Syria as part of his peace plan, has managed to tamp down, but not end, the violence. 

"There is a profound concern that the country could otherwise descend into full civil war and the implications of that are frightening," Annan told reporters yesterday, according to the Associated Press. A Syrian military truck was targeted with a bomb today when a convoy carrying observers, including the head of the mission, was less than 350 feet away. 

Although government troops are still present in cities and towns, they are there in smaller numbers, he said. Hervé Ladsous, the head of United Nations peacekeeping operations, said that the use of heavy weapons and major assaults has decreased but a "quieter crackdown [is] under way, including mass arrests," The New York Times reports. The observers have been able to operate fairly freely, a diplomat who heard the assessment told the NYT. 

"The basic conclusion among the envoys was that although the implementation of the plan was clearly flawed, there was no real alternative. Mr. Annan stressed that himself," the Times reports. UN Middle East Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said yesterday that, across the region, he sees "a dance of death at the brink of the abyss of war," according to BBC.

Col. Riad al-Assad, one of the rebel leaders, warned that he would resume attacks against the government because it has not honored the cease-fire, according to the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, AP reports. 

Annan acknowledged yesterday that his peace plan might still fail, and he has no alternative course of action if it does, according to the The Wall Street Journal. The international community still has no interest in intervention. "I'm waiting for some suggestions as to what else we do," he said. "If there are better ideas, I will be the first to jump on it."

For now, the UN seems to be clinging to the hope that putting more observers on the ground will continue to whittle away at the violence. Only 60 of the 300 observers authorized by the UN Security Council have been deployed so far, according to WSJ. The Syrian National Council, the main coalition of opposition groups, has called for a mission with as many as 3,000 monitors. 

Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the mission, said last week that even 10,000 observers "couldn't end the killing if the parties wanted to continue fighting."

The Journal reports that although both the government and the opposition have broken the cease-fire almost every day since it began a month ago, the death toll has slowed. Annan has pinned most of the responsibility for the violence on the government, although he also directed some blame at opposition groups. 

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