18 May 2012 Amid ongoing violence in parts of Syria, the presence of UN military observers on the ground has had an overall calming effect in their areas of deployment in the Middle Eastern country, the head of the UN observer force said today.
“We were very pleased to see and witness an immediate calming effect brought about by our arrival,” the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) and Chief Military Observer, Major-General Robert Mood, told reporters in Damascus today. “This has been challenged by asymmetric incidents, sometimes intense, but [only] in some locations.”
“We are seeing in the areas where we are deployed that we have both a calming effect on the ground and we are seeing that we have a good dialogue and the dialogue is expanding both with the authorities and the opposition elements,” he added. “I think it is too early to say that it is a trend that we can be conclusive about – but I share the worries of everyone who is concerned that we are seeing more violence in the last days than we did in the previous days.”
The crisis in Syria, which began in March 2011 as a protest movement similar to those across the Middle East and North Africa, has claimed over 9,000 lives, mostly civilians, and displaced tens of thousands. It led to the Security Council authorizing UNSMIS, with up to 300 unarmed military observers for an initial period of 90 days. Spread out in various locations, the observers are tasked with monitoring the cessation of violence and supporting the full implementation of the six-point plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan.
In his media encounter, Major-General Mood noted that violence is continuing as UNSMIS deploys, and “no volume of observers can achieve a progressive drop and a permanent end to the violence, if the commitment to give dialogue a chance is not genuine from all internal and external actors.”
The UNSMIS chief said that the Mission is on its way to full deployment, with some 260 military observers on the ground, hailing from 60 UN Member States, and that he expected the Mission to be fully operational soon, in “record time.”
The Chief Military Observer underlined that the rapid deployment so far had been possible thanks to the cooperation of the Syrian Government, as well as the support of the countries that have contributed observers. He said their presence represents “a very powerful tool in the terms that it is the international community coming together on the ground because the Syrian people deserve a reduction of violence, deserve stability and deserve to have their aspirations served by a political process not by more violence.”
In relation to the possible involvement of third parties, such as the terrorist group Al-Qaida, in the violence in Syria, the UNSMIS chief noted that there had been some “very worrying incidents,” such as deadly bomb attacks in Damascus on 10 May, which reportedly killed or wounded dozens.
“This is the kind of violence that is obviously impossible at this stage to decide where it came from, by whom,” he said. “I am concerned about [incidents] where explosive improvised devices are targeting innocent civilians, innocent people, because it is not going to help the situation. I have seen the reports that you refer to, if they are correct it is a worrying development.”
Speaking in Geneva today, the spokesperson for Joint Special Envoy Annan, Ahmad Fawzi, told reporters that Mr. Annan has mentioned the involvement of a “third element” in the violence, which has led to further concerns.
“We have not yet been able to ascertain who this element belongs to – who it is – and we are in the process of doing so,” Mr. Fawzi said. “And when we speak about ‘third actors’ on the ground, we mean there are the hallmarks of activities and incidents and explosions that appear to come from sources other than opposition or Government sources. This has yet to be verified.”
He noted that 10 May attacks in Damascus were first claimed by a jihadist group, and that same jihadist group denied a few days later that that claim was authentic. “So we have to be very, very careful who we apportion responsibility to,” he added.
Addressing a media conference at UN Headquarters in New York on Friday, the spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Martin Nesirky, said the Damascus attacks were clearly carried out by a group with organization and intent.
“Some of the attacks we’ve seen certainly bear some terrorist hallmarks with which we are familiar from elsewhere – there is a genuine concern, shared by the Secretary-General, that terrorist groups are already taking advantage of the continued violence and insecurity in Syria,” said Mr. Nesirky. “This means there is all the more reason for the violence to stop so the political process has a chance to begin.”
Mr. Annan’s six-point plan calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue that takes into account the aspirations of the Syrian people, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.
News Tracker: past stories on this issue