UN replaces Syrian observer mission with civilian office

The United Nations Security Council has decided not to extend the body's observer mission in Syria, setting up a civilian liaison office instead. Russia called for the Syria Action Group to meet in New York on Friday in response.

The Council's members have agreed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's proposal to establish a liaison office in Damascus, France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud announced on Thursday following a Security Council meeting.

The new body will include military advisers to the head of the office on military affairs, as well as civil affairs and human rights components.

The exact size of the office is yet to be determined, but it will be significantly smaller than the current UN observer mission, peacekeeping department chief Edmond Mulet said.

“We are already identifying some staff already working there that will be willing to continue working in Damascus under this new office,” Mulet stated.

According to Mulet, the Syrian government has already given its agreement for the UN liaison office in Damascus. 

Mulet also said he expected the new UN-Arab League Syrian envoy to be announced “very soon.” The new envoy will fill the shoes of Kofi Annan, who has announced his resignation effective August 31, noting that the conflict was spiraling out of control and that the Syrian government, rebels and incessantly-bickering Security Council members were to blame.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Annan said Syrian authorities have backed former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran UN diplomat who had previously served as the UN’s representative for Afghanistan and Iraq, as the new UN Syrian envoy. Several UN diplomats said Brahimi has already accepted the post, but with an altered mandate and title. Brahimi also reportedly conditioned his acceptance on “strong support” from the Security Council.

Currently there are 101 military observers and 72 civilian staff working in Syria's UN observer mission. The last observer is to leave the country by August 24, but the observers will stop all their duties after August 19, when the mandate ends.

Meanwhile, Moscow has invited the members of the Syria Action Group to meet in New York on Friday.

The purpose of the meeting is to ensure that the group's members are committed to the consensus document signed in Geneva in June, Russian envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin said.

“Foreign ministers of countries, members of the action group, agreed to certain things and they need to do those things,” Churkin stated.

The meeting will take place at 11 am somewhere at the UN headquarters, he added.

Meanwhile, the US State Department has questioned the purpose of the proposed talks. “We’re not sure we understand the objective and the goal of the meeting,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.