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Syria: Departing UN observer chief criticises failure to protect civilians

International obligations towards civilians “have not been respected” by either side in Syrian conflict,

General Babacar Gaye, head of UNSMIS.
General Babacar Gaye, head of UNSMIS.
Image: Salman Muzaffar/AP/Press Association Images

THE DEPARTING UN observer mission chief today accused both Syrian army and rebel forces of failing to protect civilians, as activists report dozens of people killed daily.

“Both parties have obligations under international humanitarian law to make sure that civilians are protected,” General Babacar Gaye, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, told reporters in Damascus. “These obligations have not been respected.”

The general was speaking after the UN Security Council on Thursday ordered the end of the observer mission, whose mandate draws to a close at midnight tomorrow.

A team of some 300 truce monitors was progressively deployed as part of former UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan to end the conflict in Syria but it was suspended in June and numbers cut back because of the mounting violence.

“By the middle of June, it was clear that the parties were no longer committed to the ceasefire,” Gaye said. “The result has been an escalation in violence.”

But Gaye, a Senegalese general, said the UN remained committed to contributing to peace efforts in Syria. “The UN will not leave Syria,” he said. “We will continue the search to continue from violence to dialogue.”

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday announced the appointment of veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to replace Annan as international envoy to Syria, even as world powers remain divided over how to end the conflict. Annan resigned from the role in early August, saying that he could not go on with it when the UN Security Council would not provide any backing for his role.

Speaking after official confirmation of Brahimi’s appointment, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the US was “grateful for Mr Annan’s service” and “stands ready to support [Brahimi] and secure a lasting peace that upholds the legitimate aspirations for a representative government of the people of Syria”.

“The international community is also committed to ensuring that those who commit atrocities will be identified and held accountable,” she added.

- (c) AFP, 2012; additional reporting by Susan Ryan

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