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Syria agrees April 10 deadline to pull troops out

UN envoy Kofi Annan makes progress amid reports that a high-profile Syrian activist is being detained and tortured.

Syrians wave revolutionary flags and chant slogans at a night protest against President Bashar Assad in a neighborhood of Damascus
Syrians wave revolutionary flags and chant slogans at a night protest against President Bashar Assad in a neighborhood of Damascus
Image: Anonymous/AP/Press Association Images

THE SYRIAN GOVERNMENT has agreed to withdraw troops, tanks and other heavy weapons from its cities by April 10, international envoy Kofi Annan has told the UN Security Council.

Annan received a letter from Syria’s foreign minister on Sunday with the April 10 date but indicated he would have preferred an earlier deadline, US Ambassador Susan Rice said.

She said Annan urged the Syrian government to start the withdrawal immediately and move no further into populated areas, and “that commitment was provided.”

Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’fari said the April 10 deadline was set “by common accord” between Annan and the Syrian government, and he again pledged his government’s complete support for Annan’s six-point plan to end the yearlong Syrian crisis.

But Rice, the current Security Council president, expressed skepticism about Syria’s commitment, saying that Damascus has made and broken promises over many months.

“We have seen commitments to end the violence followed by massive intensifications of violence,” Rice said. “So the United States, for one, would look at these commitments and say, yet again, the proof is the actions, not in the words.”

Annan’s plan to end Syria’s crisis calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops and heavy military equipment from populated areas, followed by an overall cease-fire — first by government forces and then by opposition fighters — to pave the way for talks by all Syrian parties on a political solution. It includes an immediate daily two-hour halt to fighting so humanitarian aid can reach suffering civilians, and unhindered access for humanitarian groups and the media.

Rice stressed that the Syrian agreement was just on the pullout of troops and equipment from cities and towns.

The development came amid reports that the Syrian government has detained and may be torturing a journalist who helped Western reporters in the city of Homs.

Videographer Ali Mahmoud Othman, who was aiding Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin at the time of her death and later helped safely evacuate her wounded colleagues, has been seized according to activists in contact with CNN.

“We believe Ali is being subjected to severe torture,” one activist said.

- Additional reporting by Michael Freeman

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