UNITED NATIONS // France's foreign minister said yesterday that the UN Security Council should consider allowing military action in Syria if an international peace plan fails to stop the violence under Bashar Al Assad's regime.
Alain Juppe, who met with Syrian opposition members in Paris yesterday, also asked that the 300 UN observers authorised to go to Syria be deployed within 15 days and said that the plan negotiated by the special UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan for Syria was "seriously compromised".
"Things are not going well, the Annan plan is strongly compromised but there is still a chance for this mediation, on the condition of the rapid deployment of the 300 monitors," Mr Juppe said.
The UN's May 5 report on the state of a ceasefire called for under Mr Annan's six-point peace plan will be "a moment of truth: Either this mediation is working, or it isn't," he said.
The UN is pressing ahead with the deployment of the additional monitors to Syria for three months although logistical problems mean only 130 will arrive by the end of May, UN officials said yesterday in New York, "Nobody is really happy with the situation. No one really wants to send them in, but what are the choices?" a Security Council diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said.
Mr Annan told the Security Council yesterday morning that the deployment of the unarmed observers to Syria is "crucial" to "strengthen" a ceasefire and "change the political dynamics" on the ground.
In essence, Mr Annan said that rather than merely observe a faltering ceasefire, the monitors' presence would help to establish an end to the fighting.
"Observers not only see what is going on, but their presence has the potential to change the political dynamics," Mr Annan told the Security Council. "In this respect, you have mandated the mission not only to monitor a cessation of armed violence but to monitor and support full implementation of the six-point plan."
A handful of UN observers toured Syria yesterday as another 17 people died in fighting, bringing to nearly 300 the number of people who have died since a tenuous ceasefire went into effect on April 12, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Among those killed yesterday were four people whose bus was raked with gunfire by security forces at a checkpoint near Khan Sheikhun, a town in the restive north-western province of Idlib.
Three Syrian soldiers died in clashes with armed rebel groups in the southern province of Deraa where two civilians also died. At the UN, Mr Annan has said his plan was "designed to help put an end to violence, but not to freeze the situation and conditions on the ground."
Instead it must lead to a political dialogue between the government and the opposition leading to free and fair elections, he said.
The special envoy said in areas already visited by an advanced team of 11 monitors, such in Homs, "there has largely been calm and quiet alongside their presence on the ground".
But he said he was "concerned" by media reports that, "before and after observers visit, government troops have been active in civilian areas and launched attacks".
He said if confirmed, reports that "government troops entered Hama [on Monday] after observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people" are "totally unacceptable and reprehensible",
Also yesterday the Syrian Journalists Union said in a statement that detained Syrian human-rights activist and journalist Mazen Darwish was suffering from a "worsening health condition".
Mr Darwish, who heads the Syrian Centre for Media Freedom and Expression, has been held in solitary confinement by Air Force intelligence since his detention on February 16, the group's statement added.
* With additional reporting by Reuters and the Associated Press