UN Syria Envoy Rejects Criticism on Assad Resignation

by
staff
The new UN special envoy to Syria has rejected criticism from opposition groups for refusing to say whether President Bashar al-Assad must resign.

Lakhdar Brahimi said a mediator had to speak to anybody and everybody without influence or interest

The new UN special envoy to Syria has rejected criticism from opposition groups for refusing to say whether President Bashar al-Assad must resign.

Lakhdar Brahimi told the BBC that he was "not in a position to say yet" but was "committed to finding a solution".

Mr Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, last week succeeded Kofi Annan, who resigned after both sides largely ignored his peace plan.

On Sunday, UN observers ended their mission to verify its implementation.

Their departure came after the UN Security Council agreed to allow their mandate to expire at midnight, and instead set up a new civilian office in Damascus to pursue political contacts which might lead to peace.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said his country is struggling to cope with the influx of refugees from Syria.

Mr Davutoglu again proposed that the UN establish a safe zone inside Syria to house those fleeing the conflict because Turkey would be unable to accommodate more than 100,000 people. To date, 70,000 have fled there, most within the past month.

Syrian opposition groups have also called for safe havens, but the idea has gain little traction internationally, with Russia and China opposed.

'Mediator'

Since being confirmed as the new UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Mr Brahimi has acknowledged that he has no concrete ideas of how to end the conflict in Syria, which he believes has been a civil war for some time.

On Monday, he told the BBC that he was not ready to say whether President Assad should step down despite widespread international condemnation of his government's crackdown on dissent since protests erupted in March 2011.

"I am not in a position to say yet, because I was appointed a couple of days ago. I am going to New York for the first time to see the people who I am going to work for, and I am going to Cairo see the Arab League," he explained.

After announcing his resignation, Mr Brahimi's predecessor, Kofi Annan, said: "It is clear that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office."

The main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), said Mr Brahimi's stance showed "disregard for the blood of the Syrian people and their right of self-determination" and demanded he apologise.

"Whoever gives this criminal regime an opportunity to kill tens of thousands more Syrians and destroy what is left of Syria does not want to recognise the extent of the tragedy," an SNC statement said.

Mr Brahimi stressed that he was "committed to finding a solution full stop".

"I am a mediator. I haven't joined any Syrian party. I am a mediator and a mediator has to speak to anybody and everybody without influence or interest," he added.

"Then I'll make up my mind about what to say and what to do."

'Shellfire'

On the ground in Syria, seven UN vehicles drove out of the capital on Monday morning, carrying some of the last members of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), all of whom are expected to leave the country by the end of the week.

As they departed, government forces were trying to retake the Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya from rebel fighters, opposition activists said. One report said seven people had been killed by shellfire.

The UK-based opposition activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said fighting in the southern city of Deraa had left 15 people dead, including two children.

Shelling by tanks and warplanes also caused houses to collapse in the northern city of Aleppo, killing at least 14 people, activist Mohammed Saeed told the Associated Press. The buildings were in the Sakhour and Qadi Askar districts, he said.

Between 80 and 130 people were reportedly killed across the country on Sunday despite the start of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday that celebrates the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The UN says more than 18,000 people have been killed in the conflict, 170,000 have fled Syria and 2.5 million need aid within the country.