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UN Syria Chief: Violence Impeded Mission’s Work

Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria, speaks to reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York, June 19, 2012
UNITED NATIONS - The head of the U.N. monitoring mission in Syria said he suspended patrols by the 300 unarmed observers late last week because of security concerns for the monitors, but that they would remain in the country. Norwegian Major General Robert Mood told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that his monitors had been targeted several times in recent weeks, making it extremely difficult to carry out their mandated tasks.

Major General Robert Mood briefed council members for two hours in a closed-door meeting. He said several factors went into his decision on Saturday to temporarily suspend the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, or UNSMIS.

“I halted the operations with UNSMIS because of the risk level - the violence - and because it is difficult to implement mandated tasks in these circumstances," said Mood. "That in itself is a message. We need to see a change if the activities of the mission in its current configuration, under the current mandate, is going to be meaningful.”

He said in order to restart patrols, there must be a significant reduction in violence and commitments from both the government and opposition for the observers’ safety. He said so far he has only received such a commitment from the government.

In April, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved the deployment of up to 300 unarmed observers to monitor what was to be a cessation of hostilities in Syria and the implementation of mediator Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan. After a brief lull in the violence, attacks spiked, including massacres in the towns of al-Houla and Qubair.

The U.N. Security Council will have to decide by July 20 whether to extend the U.N.'s initial 90-day deployment. A report with proposals for the observers from the Secretary-General is expected on July 2.

U.N. Peacekeeping Chief Hervé Ladsous also briefed the council. He told reporters that the United Nations has decided not to modify the mission now, but would consider its options as the July deadline approaches. He said they would center on scenarios in which the security situation improves dramatically, allowing the observers to carry out their mission or other options if that does not happen. But Ladsous stressed that Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan remains the focus of efforts.

“Again, one has to say there is no other plan, no other game in town," said Ladsous. "There is no 'Plan B' [alternative plan]. So the six-point plan of Kofi Annan remains the reference, the framework, for a settlement of this dramatic crisis.”

China’s Ambassador Li Baodong, who holds the rotating presidency of the 15-nation Security Council this month, said the council calls on all parties to implement the Annan plan immediately and without conditions.

Syria’s ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, reiterated Damascus’ full commitment to the plan and added that the government hopes the observers can restart their mission soon.

The United Nations says the political violence during the past 16 months has killed at least 10,000 Syrians and caused a humanitarian crisis, leaving more than 1 million Syrians in need of assistance and making at least 86,000 more refugees.