News / Middle East

UN Members Differ on Conditions for Withdrawing Syria Observers

In this citizen journalism image made and provided by the Kfar Suseh Coordinating of the Syrian Revolution on June 18, 2012, anti-Syrian regime protesters hold up a placard during a demonstration at Kfar Suseh area, in Damascus, Syria.In this citizen journalism image made and provided by the Kfar Suseh Coordinating of the Syrian Revolution on June 18, 2012, anti-Syrian regime protesters hold up a placard during a demonstration at Kfar Suseh area, in Damascus, Syria.
x
In this citizen journalism image made and provided by the Kfar Suseh Coordinating of the Syrian Revolution on June 18, 2012, anti-Syrian regime protesters hold up a placard during a demonstration at Kfar Suseh area, in Damascus, Syria.
In this citizen journalism image made and provided by the Kfar Suseh Coordinating of the Syrian Revolution on June 18, 2012, anti-Syrian regime protesters hold up a placard during a demonstration at Kfar Suseh area, in Damascus, Syria.
U.N. diplomats say Syria's increasing violence is forcing them to consider an early end to the country's U.N. observer mission, which suspended patrols on Saturday to keep its unarmed staff out of danger.  Officials and experts say the 47 nations making up the mission also have different positions on who decides when the troops will leave Syria and whether a pullout is justified.

The almost 300 U.N. military observers in Syria have a mandate that lasts until July 20, but escalating battles between government and rebel forces mean the operation may end sooner.

  • United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria
  • 298 military observers
  • 82 international civilian staff
  • 47 countries contributed military personnel
  • Mandated to monitor cessation of armed violence by all parties
  • Monitors and supports implementation of Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan

Source: UNSMIS
The U.N. Security Council launched the 90-day mission in April and must decide in the coming weeks whether to cancel it or authorize and fund an extension. But, the 47 nations that contributed troops could withdraw them even before the Security Council acts.

Pre-empting the Security Council

Cameron Ross is a retired Canadian general who commanded the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights, or UNDOF, from 1998 to 2000. Speaking by phone from British Columbia, he said nations that provided troops for the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) have the right to remove them at any time and for any reason.

"The situation on the ground changes and the contributing countries say, 'Hey, we didn't sign up for that, our soldiers are in too much danger.' Or there may be some political problems back home, the electorate is not supporting this, and they pull their troops out. This happens fairly regularly in these types of missions," Ross said.

Switzerland has two soldiers in UNSMIS. In an email statement, the Swiss government said it could "terminate" the deployment "at any time" in response to changing circumstances.

Syrian Air and Naval Forces

  • 70,000 Air Force personnel
  • 5,000 Navy personnel
  • 300 fighter-ground attack planes
  • 48 intelligence/surveillance planes
  • 22 heavy transport planes
  • 36 attack helicopters
  • 100 reconnaissance/transport helicopters
UNSMIS also has three Czech monitors. In another email statement, the Czech government said decisions on their future presence in Syria will be based in part on "close coordination" with fellow troop-contributing nations.

Entrusting Decisions to UNSMIS

Other members of UNSMIS said that they would only withdraw their monitors if U.N. authorities, including Norwegian observer chief Robert Mood, advise them to take that step. Those nations include Brazil, Croatia, Denmark and Fiji.

Timur Goksel is a former spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, or UNIFIL. Reached by phone in Beirut, he said many nations trust the decisions of U.N. commanders.

"After all, there's a military command, a trusted, experienced man at the top with a proper military command structure," Goksel said. "Most countries are quite satisfied with that. They will keep an eye on the situation, of course they will. But they will not interfere with the U.N."

The Croatian government said that any withdrawal of its two observers from Syria would be carried out in accordance with an UNSMIS document called a "Concept of Operations."

Ross said the document describes how monitors would be evacuated in emergencies. "What they are talking about regarding withdrawal is do they fly out, do they drive through Lebanon, and then fly from Beirut, do they cross into Jordan, go through Israel - those types of logistics of getting their people out and then back to Croatia."

Should Observers Leave?

Diplomats said UNSMIS contributors and other U.N. members also differ on whether the observers should leave Syria or stay.

Joshua Landis is the head of Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University. Speaking from Oklahoma, he said that some Western nations including the United States want the monitors to leave because they see them as an obstacle to regime change, in which Syrian rebels topple President Bashar al-Assad.

"Most of them would argue that regime change is going to be the only way to stop the violence," Landis said. "But as long as the U.N. is in there saying they want everybody to stop shooting, then it doesn't make sense to try to get arms to the rebels."

Goksel said other U.N. members want the observer mission to stay because they believe it helps to restrain Syria's violence.

"These guys, simply by being there, by being an international observer force, by recording what's happening, it puts pressures on all the parties to the conflict. That in itself is a very valuable input. And nobody should expect anything more than that."

UN's 'Terrible Dilemma'

Landis said the United Nations faces what he calls a "terrible dilemma" about what to do with the observers.

"They're worried that if they stay and they continue to do their patrols they're going to get blown up and their members will get killed," he said. "They're also equally worried that if they withdraw and say the mission is finished and clean their hands of the whole thing, and then Syria goes to hell in a hand-bucket and there are big massacres, the whole world is going to scream bloody murder, why is the U.N. not there?"

Ross said another option for the United Nations is sending the observers home and asking General Mood and some of his civilian staff to relocate to nearby Cyprus. He said the team could move quickly back into Syria when an opportunity arises.


 
Switzerland

 

  • "The (Swiss) Federal Council decides on deployments and could terminate this mission at any time. If (the UNSMIS mandate) is changed somewhat, e.g. if the mission is temporarily cancelled, we will also adapt our assignment."
     

Fiji
 

  • "Fijian military personnel would only be withdrawn upon receiving such advice from UN authorities."


Denmark
 
  • "The observers are deployed on the request from the U.N., and will only be withdrawn if the U.N. decides to do so. Initially, the mission has been given a mandate for a 90-day period. What will happen after that is for the U.N. to decide."
 
Czech Republic
 
  • "We are in touch with other contributors and the United Nations personnel, and any decision concerning the presence of our observers would be closely coordinated with them."


Croatia
 
  • "Any decision in regards to (increase or withdrawal of observers) will be made in accordance with Security Council Resolutions and/or UNSMIS Concept of Operations. Croatia will fully respect decisions made by UNSMIS. Unilateral withdrawal is not an option."
Brazil
 
  • "Brazil will follow the assessment of the U.N. itself as to the acceptability of the levels of risk and the conditions for continued operation of UNSMIS."

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

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid