Assad says military assault ended despite new deaths: UN


Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad told UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday that military operations against protest towns have “stopped,” a UN spokesman said, amid new reports of killings and mass arrests.
Ban spoke to Assad by telephone ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Syria when, diplomats said, the UN human rights chief is expected to call for the international war crimes court to investigate Assad’s deadly crackdown.
There is mounting international concern over the military assault on pro-democracy protests said to have left about 2,000 civilian dead in the past five months.
Ban, one of the few international leaders to have got through to Assad in recent weeks, “expressed alarm at the latest reports of continued widespread violations of human rights and excessive use of force by Syrian security forces against civilians across Syria,” deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said.
The statement highlighted the town of Lattakia, where several thousand Palestinian refugees are said to have fled their camps.
Ban “emphasized that all military operations and mass arrests must cease immediately. President Assad said that the military and police operations had stopped,” the statement declared.
There was no immediate sign from the ground of an end to hostilities between the government and opposition.
Security forces killed at least 10 people and made sweeping arrests again on Wednesday as the telephone talks went ahead, activists said.
The United Nations said Assad “enumerated the reforms he will undertake in the next few months” including constitutional change and elections. The spokesman said Ban emphasized these must go ahead “without further military intervention.”
Assad has promised reforms but western governments say there are few signs of them being carried out.
“The secretary general reiterated his calls for an independent investigation into all reported killings and acts of violence, and for free access by the media.” Ban called on Syria to give full cooperation to the UN human rights inquiry in Syria, the spokesman said.
Ban also demanded that Assad launch “a credible and peaceful process of reform.”
Assad reportedly agreed to receive a UN humanitarian mission which Ban said must “be provided with independent and unhindered access to all areas.” Assad only promised “access to different sites in Syria,” the spokesman said.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay and humanitarian chief Valerie Amos are to give details of the latest events in the strife-torn country at a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday.
Pillay will say there is “evidence that Syria has committed grave violations of international human rights law,” said one diplomat with knowledge of the report.
Pillay wants “a thorough, appropriate, international investigation” of the crackdown, the diplomat told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The UN rights official “is likely to suggest that the International Criminal Court would be appropriate,” confirmed another diplomatic source.
The UN human rights department “is expected to conclude that the allegations are so serious, and credible, that national level investigation conducted by the Syrians will be insufficient,” added the source.
Only the Security Council can refer the Syria case to the ICC, which is based in The Hague.
The council has already referred Libyan leader Muammer Qaddafi and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir to the ICC. Both are now on the court’s wanted list.
The European Union and United States have stepped up pressure on Assad’s government with mounting sanctions moves. The Western powers face opposition in the Security Council to new sanctions, namely from Russia, China and emerging powers Brazil, India and South Africa.
The UN Security Council meeting starts at 1900 GMT and will almost certainly be behind closed doors.