News

Norwegian General Leads UN Observer Mission in Syria

UN-appointed Norwegian Major General Robert Mood talks to the media after his arrival at Damascus airport, April 29, 2012.
UN-appointed Norwegian Major General Robert Mood talks to the media after his arrival at Damascus airport, April 29, 2012.

Norwegian Major General Robert Mood is five days into one of the toughest jobs of his career. He is commanding a small, unarmed group of U.N. soldiers in Syria on a mission to rescue a truce deal that has failed to end the country's 14-month conflict.

The 54-year-old veteran of U.N. and NATO peacekeeping missions took command of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) last Sunday, putting himself in the spotlight as he tries to calm daily fighting between government and rebel forces.

General Mood was little known on the world stage before being appointed to the post by international peace envoy Kofi Annan last month. But, the Norwegian is no stranger to Syria.

Familiar face to Syrians

From 2009 to 2011, he traveled frequently in Syria while serving as chief of the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). Based in Jerusalem, UNTSO is the world body's oldest peacekeeping mission and has monitored cease-fires around the region.

Norwegian Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide has known the general for many years. Speaking to VOA by phone from Olso, Eide said Mood has a "long experience" of working with the Syrian government and military and officials of neighboring states.

"He has been following developments in the region and he knows it well," said Eide. "So I think he has a very good insight into the regional context, which as we know is a very complicated regional context."

General Mood led a small team to Syria in early April to discuss the terms of the U.N. observer mission with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Positive view of Syrian negotiators


In a briefing to the Norwegian media after his trip, he credited the Syrian officials and generals with whom he met as being "good" and "professional" negotiators.

Eide said General Mood's comments about Syrian authorities "should not be confused with any endorsement of their behavior."

Last month, General Mood also told several news organizations that he "fell in love" with Damascus during his UNTSO assignment and appreciated the "warmth" with which he was received in Syria.

Part of his role was to supervise the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) that maintains Syria's 1973 cease-fire with Israel in the Golan Heights region.

A welcome border presence

Hozan Ibrahim is a Germany-based member of Syria's main opposition group, the Syrian National Council. Ibrahim told VOA that Syrians living near the boundary with Israel are "very welcoming" of UNDOF as it has helped to keep the area quiet since 1974.

Ibrahim also trusts General Mood's credentials. "As he is a Norwegian and a long-serving U.N. officer, [I think] the general could be neutral and you can depend on his reports," he said.

Robert Mood also developed his peacekeeping expertise on two missions to Kosovo between 1999 to 2002.

Experience as Kosovo peacekeeper


First, he served as a commander of the Norwegian Telemark Battalion that entered Kosovo in 1999 as part of a NATO-led peacekeeping force, KFOR. He later returned to Kosovo to join KFOR's leadership.

The Norwegian defense minister said he met with Robert Mood in Kosovo in 1999 and thought the general did a "very good job."

"I think he gained both field-level military experience and military-diplomatic experience from that mission in its most crucial years after the Kosovo war in 1999," Eide said.

Eide said General Mood's personality also makes him suitable to lead the new U.N. team in Syria. "He understands different perspectives and speaks with authority when he makes up his mind."

The general's prospects for success with UNSMIS are less clear, Eide acknowledged.

Can his U.N. misson succeed?

"The good news is that the parties in the Syrian conflict, the government and the rebels, have stated their intention to comply with the six points of Kofi Annan's peace plan. The bad news is that, so far, they are not in full compliance."

Norway has sent several troops to Syria to join General Mood's team. Eide said the mission is worthwhile because it can act as an impartial force, investigating government and rebel claims of truce violations by the other side, and reporting the facts to the world.

But, the Norwegian general has no mandate to use weapons or to force Syria's warring sides to comply.

Eide said such a truce mission only can succeed when the combatants have the political will to comply, or come under external pressure to do so.

"If the conclusion is that there is no compliance, then the conclusion has to be drawn at some stage that this is not a path to continue," he said.

General's team expands


Speaking to reporters in the central city of Homs on Thursday, General Mood said his team has grown to 50 members. Another 250 personnel authorized by the U.N. Security Council are due to arrive by the end of May.

SNC member Ibrahim said the 300-strong mission is too small to cover Syria's vast territory. He also said some observers only have been spending several minutes in an area before moving on - not long enough to see what is happening, in his view.

Ibrahim doubted the mission's effectiveness, but also said General Mood should be given a chance. "We want him to be successful to end the bloodshed of the last year," Ibrahim said.


Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin
This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs