UN To Recommend Fewer Syria Monitors


* Plans urges shift of mission's focus to political talks

Reuters Image

* Plans urges shift of mission's focus to political talks

* Security Council to get report on options by Friday

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will recommend that the Security Council keep the mandate of its Syria monitoring mission unchanged while temporarily reducing the number of unarmed military observers, diplomats said on Thursday.

The idea, they said, was to shift the mission's focus from observing a non-existent ceasefire to supporting efforts aimed at securing a political solution, which world powers say is the only way out of the crisis in Syria.

The recommendation will be included in a report on options for the future of the U.N. mission in Syria, known as UNSMIS, which Ban is expected to present to the 15-nation council by Friday, U.N. diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The deeply divided Security Council must make a decision on what to do with UNSMIS before July 20. Russia and China, which have twice vetoed resolutions condemning Damascus for its assault on the opposition and threatened it with sanctions, have indicated they want the U.N. mission to remain in place as is.

But the United States, European council members and others have suggested that keeping hundreds of military observers in Syria to monitor a non-working ceasefire makes no sense.

The council is scheduled to discuss the issue on Wednesday and is due to vote on July 18.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces have killed more than 15,000 people since March 2011, Syrian dissidents and Western leaders say. Damascus says rebels have killed many soldiers and security men.

Ban's recommendation is in line with what diplomats told Reuters on June 25 - that the world body would likely reduce the number of unarmed military observers in Syria, where an escalating 16-month conflict has cast doubt on the viability of a U.N.-backed peace plan and monitors helping to implement it.

"It calls for a temporary reduction of UNSMIS and presents other less realistic options," one source said. Other diplomats confirmed his remarks, adding that UNSMIS' mandate to monitor compliance with all six points of international mediator Kofi Annan's moribund peace plan for Syria would remain unchanged.

Envoys said that under that option, the emphasis of UNSMIS' work would shift away from military observers, who suspended most of their monitoring activities on June 16 due to the increased risk, to the roughly 100 civilian staff focusing on issues like human rights.

Military observers would continue to work with the civilians when necessary, the diplomats added.

Diplomats said that among the other possible options in the report, which Ban recommends not pursuing, were increasing the size of the 300-strong unarmed military observer force and possibly arming them, or shutting down the entire mission.

Shutting down the mission, envoys said, would send a signal that the world body is washing its hands of the 16-month conflict between forces loyal to Assad and an increasingly militarized and capable opposition.

"Nobody really wants to send a message that we believe there are no near-term prospects for a ceasefire," a council diplomat said. "Even if some monitors temporarily leave Syria, they could come back if there is a credible ceasefire."



UNSMIS head General Robert Mood suggested on Thursday that he would support such a reconfiguration of the mission. He said the mission must stay, despite the fact the ceasefire it was sent to police is non-existent and violence is reaching an "unprecedented level."

But Mood said the 300-strong mission should be restructured to help support the political dialogue that foreign powers consider essential.

UNSMIS' mandate, which expires on July 20, calls for up to 300 unarmed military observers and a unspecified number of civilian experts. The mandate does not require that all 300 be in the country at any given time.

"One can temporarily reconfigure the mission so that a sizeable number of military observers remain in Syria in case there is a ceasefire, while the emphasis shifts to the civilian-political aspects of the mission," a diplomat said.

World powers struck an agreement in Geneva on Saturday that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the conflict there, but they remained at odds over what part Assad might play in the process.

Annan said after the Geneva talks that such a unity government should include members of Assad's administration and the Syrian opposition and should arrange free elections.

"We'll have to see how the Security Council reacts to the SG's (Ban's) recommendation," a council diplomat said. "But a reconfiguration of UNSMIS while keeping the current mandate seems to me an acceptable compromise."

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