UN team begins Syrian monitoring mission

A five-member UN team, mandated by Kofi Annan, the special envoy to Syria for the UN and Arab League, is in Syria attempting to launch a monitoring operation to help end the country’s crisis and establish a ceasefire.

­The former UN secretary-general's spokesman said that the team, with expertise on political, peacekeeping and mediation issues, will stay as long as it is making progress in reaching agreement on practical steps to implement Annan's proposals.

Kofi Annan presented his six-point plan to Syrian President Bashar Assad during two meetings in Damascus on March 10-11 as the joint envoy for the UN and Arab League.

A key point of the proposal calls for Syria to "commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence by all parties.” As these actions are being taken, Annan "shall seek similar commitments from all other armed groups to cease violence under an effective United Nations supervision mechanism," it said.

In a letter to Annan, Syria said it is "keen to end violence," but insisted that armed opposition groups give up their weapons first. It also demanded that Annan halt the supply and financing of weapons to the opposition.

Moscow says it is ready to back Kofi Annan's mission in Syria, not only in form of a statement, but also as a UN resolution. Russia’s Foreign Minister said, however, that the Security Council should not interpret Annan's proposals as an ultimatum, but simply as a basis for settling the crisis.

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council is expected to discuss a draft statement which backs Annan’s proposals and urges Syria to immediately implement them.

Syria's envoy to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, assured reporters in New York "that Syria is committed to making Mr Annan's mission successful."

The "technical team from Mr. Annan's office will discuss further issues related to the fulfillment of his mission," he added.

This is not the first attempt to send monitors to Syria to settle the ongoing conflict. In January, the Arab League withdrew its observers from the country. The mission failed to end the bloodshed as it was divided over the situation in Damascus with some members, such as Qatar, fiercely criticizing the regime and others, like Algeria, backing up his actions.

Another UN mission, a humanitarian one, is currently on the ground in Syria to assess the situation. It is visiting the centers of protest and violence, such as Homs, Hama and Deraa.


­Experts divided over Annan mission

­Franklin Lamb, a Middle East expert and activist, says that the Russia-backed Annan mission has the potential to stop the violence in Syria.

“It may not be an overstatement to call this a breakthrough. If Russia can achieve a UN resolution, I doubt the Americans will be able to veto it. You get the ceasefire, then you start the dialogue.”

Jacob Hornberger from the Future of Freedom Foundation, a libertarian Washington advocacy group, believes any resolution that forces an immediate ceasefire will signal victory for Assad, and might be unacceptable to the US.

“The US would love to have regime change in Syria, the Russians would love to maintain the current regime, but let’s face it, a ceasefire leaves the Bashar Assad dictatorship in power.” he said to RT.

Instead, James Corbett, an independent journalist and blogger, believes that the authorities, the rebels and their respective backers will carry on fighting to win control over Syria by military means.

“Diplomacy isn’t what any of the sides are looking for” he told RT.

“There has been more reform in Syria proposed by Assad in the past year than there has been in the past 50 years, and if that’s not enough to bring the sides to the table, then nothing is.”