UN envoy: Without deal in Syria, think Somalia not Yugoslavia

The United Nations' envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi argued against hopes that the country could find stability by devolving into a set of smaller states. 

Muzaffar Salman/Reuters
Free Syrian Army fighters prepare their weapons in Aleppo's Izaa district December 30.

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After a week of attempting to craft a peace plan that both President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition would agree to, the United Nations' envoy to Syria said the situation will not stabilize on its own and that a political deal is no closer.

“People are talking about a divided Syria being split into a number of small states like Yugoslavia,” Lakhdar Brahimi said, according to The New York Times. “This is not what is going to happen. What will happen is Somalization – warlords." 

“The situation is bad and it’s getting worse,” Brahimi also said, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. “I can’t see anything other than these two paths: Either there will be a political solution that will meet the ambitions and legitimate rights of the Syrian people, or Syria will turn into hell.”

He warned that the violence could claim as many as 100,000 lives in 2013.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Assad did not respond to Mr. Brahimi's proposals and a Syrian opposition leader declined an invitation to Moscow to meet with Russian officials. Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said Assad could not be convinced to leave the country, which the opposition has insisted is a precondition for talks. 

Speaking about the yawning gap that has to be bridged for the two sides to sit down for talks, CNN reports that Brahimi said, "The Syrians disagree violently. On one side, the government says we are doing our duty to protect our people from ... terrorists. On the other side, they say the government is illegitimate," Brahimi said. "They are not talking about the same problem. They are talking about two different problems."

Brahimi's comments came the day after what CNN said might be the bloodiest day in the uprising – on Dec. 29, at least 399 people were killed.

According to Reuters, Mr. Lavrov pinned the blame for continuing violence on the opposition, even though the US, European countries, and most Arab states back the opposition's demand that Assad's removal from power come first. 

"When the opposition says only Assad's exit will allow it to begin a dialogue about the future of its own country, we think this is wrong, we think this is rather counterproductive," he said. "The costs of this precondition are more and more lives of Syrian citizens."

But the Syrian opposition's calculus has changed over the last couple months. A string of victories has made it optimistic abut winning the war in the end, and therefore less flexible in negotiations, according to Reuters.

Regime still has strength

But despite their recent success, "the government still has the bigger arsenal and a potent air force. It controls most of the densely populated southwest of Syria, the Mediterranean coast, most of the main north-south highway and military bases countrywide," Reuters notes. 

Russia appears to be making an effort to secure a meeting, agreeing to meet the opposition representative outside of Russia if he insists. Bloomberg reports that, according to RIA Novosti, the foreign ministry said talks could be held in Geneva or Cairo instead. 

Meanwhile, Brahimi is rapidly losing ground support in Syria, Reuters reports. 

The envoy's credibility with the rebels appears to have withered. In the rebel-held town of Kafranbel, demonstrators held up banners ridiculing Brahimi with English obscenities. 

"We do not agree at all with Brahimi's initiative. We do not agree with anything Brahimi says," the rebel chief in Aleppo province, Colonel Abdel-Jabbar Oqaidi, said on Friday.

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