UN envoy warns of ‘Somalisation’ of Syria
DAMASCUS // UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, in Syria yesterday on the most sensitive leg of a regional push for peace talks, has warned of the “Somalisation” of the country.
His grim warning came as fighting between rebels and the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s forces prevented chemical weapons inspectors from visiting two sites, although UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the mission to destroy Syria’s arsenal by mid-2014 was still on track.
Mr Brahimi has been seeking to build on the momentum of last month’s US-Russian deal to eradicate Syria’s chemical weapons to launch the Geneva 2 peace talks proposed for next month.
The delicacy of his mission was underlined yesterday when Mr Al Assad sacked a deputy prime minister who met US officials in Geneva to discuss the peace conference.
The state news agency Sana said Qadri Jamil was fired for “undertaking activities and meetings outside the homeland without coordination with the government”, “bypassing” state institutions and absence from his workplace without permission.
Mr Jamil, a member of the Syrian political opposition that does not support the anti-Assad uprising, met US officials in Geneva at the weekend, a UN official said.
A major obstacle to the peace conference is the increasingly divided opposition’s refusal to attend unless Mr Al Assad agrees to step down, a demand rejected by Damascus.
In an interview with a French website, Mr Brahimi said Mr Al Assad could contribute to the transition to a “new” Syria but not as the country’s leader.
“What history teaches us is that after a crisis like this there is no going back,” the Algerian diplomat told the Jeune Afrique website.
The veteran troubleshooter admitted “the entire world will not be present” at the talks, but said the alternative to a political settlement could be a failed state in the heart of the Middle East.
“The real danger is a sort of ‘Somalisation’ but even more deep and lasting than what we have seen in Somalia.”
Somalia has been in a state of crisis since the civil war, which began in 1991 when opposition groups toppled the military government. Since then various factions, insurgents and terrorist groups have fought to fill the power vacuum.
Mr Brahimi yesterday met Hassan Abdul-Azim, a senior opposition figure with the Damascus-based National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change.
The group has called for regime change through peaceful means and is not part of the opposition Syrian National Coalition or rebel groups fighting to topple the Syrian president.
Mr Abdul-Azim said that Mr Brahimi told him the US and Russia are determined to hold the peace conference next month.
One of the key sticking points in getting the opposition to agree to the talks is the issue of Mr Al Assad’s future but Mr Abdul-Azim says this is for Syrians to decide among themselves whether the president steps aside or not.
More than 115,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Syria’s 31-month conflict, which started after the regime launched a crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests.
In the latest blow to peace efforts, 19 Islamist rebel groups said on Sunday that anyone who attends the Geneva talks would be committing “treason” and could face execution.
The warning added to doubts over whether any agreement reached by Syria’s external opposition could be implemented on the ground.
In recent months rebel groups have clashed among themselves, and several prominent brigades have rejected the National Coalition — the main western and Arab backed opposition group — which is to meet on November 9 to decide whether to take part in the Geneva talks.
The intensity of the fighting in Syria has meanwhile slowed the unprecedented international mission to dispose of a vast chemical arsenal in a country torn apart by civil war.
The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its inspectors had been unable to reach the last two of 23 disclosed chemical weapons sites for “security reasons”.
Inspectors were supposed to have visited all sites declared by Syria by Sunday as part of their mission to oversee the elimination of the country’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.
But Mr Ban said the inspectors were still on track to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons production equipment by November 1, the first major deadline of a timetable set out by the Security Council.
He said Damascus has extended “consistent, constructive” support to the mission but warned “the job is far from complete and much important work remains to be done”.
“Without sustained genuine commitment by the Syrian authorities, the joint mission will not fullfil its objectives,” he said.
* Agence France-Presse with Associated Press
Updated: October 29, 2013 04:00 AM