April 19 (Bloomberg) -- President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on protesters seeking political change forced 156,000 people to flee their homes last year, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre said.
The conflict is “the most profound social upheaval in Syria since the instability of the 1960s” that subsequently brought the Assad family to power, according to a report today from the Geneva-based organization that tracks displacements worldwide. The estimate includes those Syrians who have remained within their homeland.
It did not say how many people have been forced to leave their homes during 2012, as Syrian forces have besieged cities including Homs and Idlib. Neighboring countries say many more Syrians have sought shelter abroad. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh estimated April 13 that there are about 100,000 Syrian refugees in his country. His Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, said at the same press conference that more than 25,000 Syrians are in refugee camps there.
Syria’s government has responded to opposition demonstrations that started peacefully in March 2011 with detentions and attacks on opposition cities. More than 9,000 people have died and 1 million are in need of immediate humanitarian aid because of the conflict, according to the United Nations.
Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League’s special envoy to Syria, brokered a peace plan to halt the violence last month. A cease-fire that went into effect on April 12 has not ended the blooodshed. Syria and the UN today reached agreement on how the cease-fire monitors would carry out their duties, the UN said. Security forces killed at least 46 people yesterday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mail.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Security Council, where Russia and China twice vetoed measures against Assad, to send as many as 300 unarmed observers to monitor the cease-fire. The observers should be “a nimble presence” and visit as many as 10 locations over “a period of weeks,” according to a report he sent to the council.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said at a press conference that 14 countries will attend a meeting on Syria in Paris today, and that he “regrets” that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov turned down a personal invitation to attend.
“We had hoped that the UN plan would have allowed us to move in the right direction,” Juppe said. “But the troops have not returned to the barracks and the attacks continue. The regime is continuing to use heavy artillery against population centers.”
Juppe said “300 to 400 well equipped observers who can deploy across the country is the minimum.”
“France has no confidence in Bashar al-Assad to carry out the necessary reforms,” he said. “He says he agrees to plans and then doesn’t put them into place. When you have massacred 10,000 of your citizens, it’s hard to say you deserve to stay in power.”
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