UN points finger at pro-Syrian thugs in massacre

The UN peacekeeping chief said he has seen no reason to believe that "third elements" were involved in Houla massacre in Syria.

New York: The UN peacekeeping chief on Tuesday said there are strong suspicions that pro-regime fighters were responsible for some of the 108 victims of a massacre in Syria, along with heavy weapons illegally fired by Syrian government forces.

Herve Ladsous told reporters he has seen no reason to believe that "third elements" -- outside forces -- were involved in one of the bloodiest single events in Syria`s 15-month-old uprising, though he did not rule it out, saying "we may learn more”.

The Syrian government has denied any responsibility for the massacre in Houla, blaming "armed terrorists”.

Ladsous strongly disagreed.

"I am certainly saying that because people -- civilians, children -- were dramatically killed by heavy weapons, I am saying for this, undoubtedly, the government of Syria is responsible," he said.

Ladsous pointed the finger at pro-government militias known as shabiha as well. "There were strong suspicious that the shabihas were involved in this tragedy in Houla," he said.

But he added, "I cannot say that we have absolute proof." Ladsous also pointed to the involvement of the shabiha in other attacks.

"There have been similarly very strong rumours in other places, in other instances of extreme violence, they were involved," Ladsous said, without giving any examples.

"When you look at the situation from the ground," he said, "you see a number, of course, military and security forces who are in uniform, but you see also a substantial number of people who are dressed in civilian clothes yet are heavily armed with machine guns and all that."

Ladsous, who visited Syria last week, said he didn`t ask those armed civilian if they were shabihas, but "the fact is that some elements are definitely present on the scenes of violence”.

The peacekeeping chief said almost all of the 300 unarmed UN observers authorised by the Security Council are now on the ground. They are deployed in eight cities and will soon be in 11 cities, he said.

Ladsous said the presence of UN observers is "saving lives" and the use of heavy weapons has diminished in areas where they are deployed.

But Assistant Secretary-General Tony Banbury, who deals with equipment and logistics, said the armoured vehicles they use for patrols "are being shot at on an almost daily basis”, including today.