The United Nations observer mission in Syria will remain suspended until the level of violence declines enough for the monitors to be able to move around the country to carry out their activities, the commander of the operation said.
“We need to see a change if the activity of the mission in the current situation and under the current mandate is to be meaningful,” Norwegian Major General Robert Mood told reporters yesterday after briefing the UN Security Council in New York.
He said he hoped his mission could return to monitoring activities in at least some areas.
“The suffering of the women and children of Syria is getting worse,” Mood told journalists.
Mood suspended the mission’s activities June 16, saying that increasing violence made it impossible for the monitors to carry out their task of observing and trying to prevent attacks on civilians. The UN has 291 unarmed military observers and 89 civilian monitors in Syria.
The suspension will be reviewed daily, with the aim of returning the mission to full operation, said Li Baodong, China’s UN ambassador, who holds the council’s rotating presidency.
At least 31 people were killed in the conflict yesterday, according to the Local Coordinating Committees, an activist group. More than 10,000 people have died since the start of the uprising, according to the UN.
Any decision to revise the observers’ mandate -- or end the mission -- would be made by the council, with advice from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
If Mood and Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy for Syria, agree that the monitors can’t do their job, there will be no reason to keep them in place, especially if they continue to come under fire, diplomats from two Security Council-member nations said June 18. Annan is scheduled to brief the council on June 26.
The U.S. is also questioning whether to support extending the mission’s mandate, which otherwise expires July 21, or even shut it down sooner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week. Russia has supported the operation even as it has opposed stronger Security Council action, including economic sanctions and an arms embargo against the Syrian regime.
Mood’s boss, Herve Ladsous, chief of the UN’s peacekeeping operations, told reporters that the UN was sticking with Annan’s six-point plan to bring about a democratic transition in Syria. The first point of the plan calls for a cease-fire, to be monitored by Mood’s unarmed troops.
“There is no Plan B,” he said.
Ladsous said a recommendation on whether to continue the monitoring mission will be made by Moon “in due course.”
Unless the Syrian government and the opposition can be made to comply with Annan’s plan, “we may be reaching the day when it will be too late to stop the crisis from spinning out of control,” the UN’s chief political officer, Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, told the Security Council yesterday.
Even if the monitors can’t leave their barracks, they still serve a useful purpose, said Bill Nash, a retired U.S. Army major general who led peacekeeping forces in Bosnia.
“You’ve got to go through this process and show that it fails,” Nash said in an interview from his home in Washington. “Then the Security Council has cause to go one better. I don’t know exactly what one better is right now, but it’s obvious as you look back over the history of intervention that if at first we don’t succeed, we look at how to get more resources.”
The U.S., France and Britain and are hoping the presence of the observers, and their reports back to the UN, will increase pressure on Russia and China to stop supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In the interim, Nash said, the observers’ presence keeps a spotlight on Syria and the victims of the fighting. That in itself increases the pressure on Syria and its supporters, possibly opening a way to peace talks, he said.
“Calling the Annan plan dead does not change the fact that there is a need for a diplomatic track,” said Aram Nerguizian, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “None of the options beyond diplomacy are any good or will produce a stable geopolitical outcome.”
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