UN must act to stop Syria violence, conference told


The United Nations must act to stop the violence in Syria, an Arab League official said Sunday as bloodshed on the ground claimed more lives.
Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi called on participants of the “Friends of Syria” conference in Istanbul to demand the UN Security Council make a binding decision to stop the violence.
Russia and China have already blocked such a measure, vetoing a resolution on February 4 condemning Syria for its crackdown on protests.
As fighting on the ground killed more people and the Damascus regime said it had no immediate plans to pull back its forces, conference host Turkey warned the world would have no choice but to recognise Syrians’ right to take up arms if the UN fails to act.
“If United Nations Security Council refrains from taking on the responsibility, the international community will have no chance but to accept Syrians’ right to self-defence,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said as he opened the conference.
And US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticised President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for launching new assaults just days after accepting a peace plan by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. “Nearly a week has gone by, and we have to conclude that the regime is adding to its long list of broken promises,” Clinton said in prepared remarks.
France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Assad’s regime must be given a deadline to abide by Annan’s peace plan.
Ahead of the gathering, Assad’s regime declared victory over rebels and again voiced support for Annan’s plan, but kept up its shelling of rebel positions and said it had no plans to immediately withdraw troops.
At least 16 people were killed Sunday, including eight soldiers who died during ambushes and gun battles in the east, northwest and near Damascus, monitors said.
Assad’s deadly crackdown on opponents has left more than 9,000 people dead since the uprising began in March last year, according to the UN.
The opposition Syrian National Council, meanwhile, called on the international community to recognise the group as the sole representative of the Syrian people.
Juppe said the conference would recognise the SNC as the main interlocutor, and had agreed to create a working group to consider further sanctions against Damascus when it meets in Paris in the next two weeks.
The SNC also announced it would pay the salaries of all those fighting Assad’s regime.
The SNC on Saturday renewed calls to arming rebels, while the US and Gulf Arab states urged Annan to spell out the “next steps” if Damascus fails to implement his plan.
But an Arab League summit in Baghdad this week rejected the option of arming any side in the conflict, though members Saudi Arabia and Qatar openly called for arming the anti-Assad movement. The US has also ruled out arming the rebels. Syria’s neighbour Iraq said Assad’s regime will not fall and any attempts to overthrow it by force will aggravate the crisis in the region.
“We reject any arming (of Syrian rebels) and the process to overthrow the regime, because this … will leave a greater crisis in the region,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters.
Annan’s six-point peace plan calls for an end to the violence, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire and access to all areas affected by the fighting in Syria, as well as an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate, and the release of people detained arbitrarily.
Damascus blasted Sunday’s meeting.
“Only the naive and those who want to see through the eyes of the Americans believe that this is a conference for the friends of the Syrian people,” said Al-Baath newspaper, mouthpiece of Assad’s ruling party by the same name.
“The call (by Saudi Arabia) … to arm the terrorists, encourage the bloodbath and destroy infrastructure makes the conference a platform for the enemies of Syria, who are discussing everything but the interests of the Syrians,” it added. Annan is not attending the conference and Russia and China, Damascus’s two remaining major allies, have also opted out.
In Istanbul, a group of nearly 60 Syrians staged a protest in front of the conference building. The group waved Assad’s pictures and chanted slogans in favor of the regime. The police later broke up the protest with tear gas.