UNSC approves 30-day extension for Syria monitors
New York: The UN Security Council on Friday unanimously agreed to extend the UN monitoring mission in Syria for 30 days, agreeing to consider further extension only if the government and rebels there cease the use of heavy weapons and stop violence.
The 15-nation Council voted to adopt the British-drafted resolution a day after permanent members Russia and China vetoed another resolution that would have threatened President Bashar al-Assad's regime with sanctions if Syrian authorities did not stop using heavy weapons and withdrew troops from towns and cities within 10 days.
The UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) was established in April with an initial 90-day mandate, which expired today.
The extension is for a final period of 30 days, "taking into consideration Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recommendations to reconfigure the mission and taking into consideration the operational implications of the increasingly dangerous security situation in Syria."
The resolution states that the Council would only consider further extensions to the mission "in the event that the Secretary-General reports and the Security Council confirms the cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in the level of violence sufficient by all sides" to allow the UNSMIS monitors to implement their mandate.
Britain's UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said "if over the next 30 days there is a change in that dynamic and those conditions are met then of course the Security Council, on a recommendation by the Secretary-General, will look again at the future of UNSMIS."
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters the 30-day extension would allow the UN mission to withdraw from the country "safely and orderly", with priority being given to ensuring the security of UN personnel.
The Pakistani delegation had also circulated a draft that sought extending the mission for 45 days but the Council agreed to adopt the British-backed resolution.
"We have also said in this resolution that, should “in the unlikely event” the situation on the ground change substantially and the government cease the use of heavy weapons and the level of violence become reduced to the extent that indeed UNSMIS again can not only operate freely but perform and fulfil the mandate that we gave it, then we would be prepared - in that unlikely circumstance - to revisit the question of whether UNSMIS has continued utility," Rice added.
UNSMIS was tasked with monitoring the cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitoring and supporting the full implementation of the six-point peace plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis Kofi Annan.
It had recently suspended its regular patrols due to the escalating violence in the country, where over 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against Assad began 16 months ago.
Rice added that the resolution to extend the mission was not the resolution the US had hoped to adopt in the first instance.
"Our strong preference was to adopt the resolution that was regrettably vetoed yesterday in order to give the men and women of UNSMIS a final, last, best opportunity to succeed in the performance of their mission, by backing them up with the full weight of this Council and its commitment to use the tools at our disposal to ensure the implementation of our decision," Rice said.
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 and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.
Speaking to reporters in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Ban said he and Annan would press ahead to try and end the violence and abuses in Syria.
"We cannot abandon our collective responsibility to enable a peaceful, democratic, Syrian-led transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," he said.
The UN chief called again on all the parties, starting with the Syrian Government and opposition forces, to stop the killing, and especially the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population. With fighting now taking place in many parts of Syria, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, strongly urged all sides to make a huge effort to ensure civilians are not killed or injured.
"Conflict in urban areas is obviously especially dangerous to civilians. And far too many innocent men, women and children have already been killed and injured already, as well as a million displaced," her spokesperson, Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has also expressed his growing concern for the dramatic numbers of people who are fleeing their homes in Syria.
"With the spread of deadly violence, I am gravely concerned for the thousands of Syrian civilians and refugees who have been forced to flee their homes," he said.
Thousands of Syrians crossed into Lebanon yesterday, Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news conference in Geneva, adding that there are various reports claiming that between 8,500 and 30,000 people having crossed in the past 48 hours.
According to the agency's registration statistics on July 18, 120,000 Syrian refugees sought protection in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.