x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

UN to vote on sending 300 ceasefire observers to Syria

Under the agreement the monitors will only be deployed "expeditiously" if UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assesses that the ceasefire has been "consolidated".

UNITED NATIONS // The UN Security Council will vote today on a resolution that would deploy an initial 300 unarmed UN ceasefire observers to Syria for three months, after a compromise was struck last night between competing Western and Russian versions of the plan.

But under the agreement the monitors will only be deployed "expeditiously" if UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assesses that the ceasefire has been "consolidated," the text of the resolution says.

The monitors could be sent in as soon as this happens. If the violence does not stop and Syrian forces fail to withdraw from towns and cities in 15 days when Mr Ban must report, the council will "consider further steps as appropriate," the resolution says. What those steps are not spelt out.

The original Western plan had explicitly called for sanctions against Damascus if in 15 days it did not end the violence and withdraw its forces and heavy weapons from towns and cities, a key part of the UN's six-point peace plan agreed by the government and the rebels.

Russia's competing plan would have had the monitors deployed immediately, without waiting for Mr Ban's assessment that the violence had ended and that Damascus had pulled back its forces. The Russian plan had made no mention of sanctions.

The agreement reached last night is subject to approval by the capitals of the 15 Security Council nations. The council has scheduled a vote for 7pm tonight.

The Western plan would have sent a message to Damascus that should it fail to withdraw its forces, the West and its Arab partners would skip

UN monitoring and move to UN sanctions, the threat of force and support for the armed opposition, as a group of foreign ministers from the US, France and other nations outlined on Thursday in Paris.

Russia, however, is opposed to UN sanctions and would likely veto any such measure.

The resolution asks Damascus to give the observers unhindered movement and freedom to interview any Syrian without a threat of reprisal.

The government is to provide the observers' security, the resolution says.

The UN and the government are also urged to agree "rapidly" on the monitors' use of helicopters and planes. Mr Ban has said the UN would find its own aircraft if Syria fails to provide them.

The government is also to allow immediate and unhindered access to humanitarian aid.

The resolution condemns "widespread" human rights violations by the Syrian government and "any human rights abuses" by "armed groups." It says that those responsible will be held accountable.

It calls on Damascus to "urgently and visibly" fulfil its promise to implement the six-point Annan peace plan by stopping military advances

on populated areas and withdraw its forces and heavy weapons back to barracks.

It calls on the rebels to stop fighting too, "provided the government does so."

The text thanks Syria's neighbours for taking in thousands of Syrian refugees and asks the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide help to these countries, namely Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday in Paris had hinted that the observers' deployment would only come if conditions on the ground warrant it.

"We think it's important to get independent sources of observation and reporting on the ground, but we do not want to create a situation where those who are sent in to do this mission themselves are subjected to violence," she said a meeting of foreign ministers of the so-called Friends of Syria.

"So we need to continue to work and move toward a Security Council authorisation so that we have the authority to proceed when the times are right," she said.