U.N. approves first observers for Syria

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — For the first time since the Syrian conflict began more than a year ago, the U.N. Security Council on Saturday united behind a legally binding resolution calling for violence to end immediately and peace talks to begin.

The resolution authorized the deployment of the first wave of U.N. military observers to monitor a fragile cease-fire between the Syrian government and opposition fighters.

It also called for “the urgent, comprehensive, and immediate implementation” of international envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan.

Russia and China vetoed two previous resolutions that would have condemned Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government for its bloody crackdown on protesters, calling them unbalanced because they demanded that the government stop attacks, but not the opposition. Russia, Syria’s most powerful ally, accused Western nations of seeking regime change.

The cease-fire, which formally took effect Thursday, is at the center of Annan’s peace plan, which is aimed at ending more than a year of bloodshed that has killed over 9,000 people, according to the United Nations, and to launch inclusive Syrian-led talks on the country’s political future.

But scattered violence continued on Saturday, sparking concern among council members.

“We hope that in the immediate term, this will open the way to a cessation of brutal violence, and we hope that we’ll be able to say to the Syrian people that the time of indiscriminate violence is finally behind it,” said France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud.

Still, Saturday’s attacks on the key city of Homs “lead to some doubts about the reality of the commitment of the Syrian regime,” Araud said.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice called the government attacks in Homs a violation of the cease-fire.

The resolution calls on both sides to immediately “cease all armed violence in all its forms” and condemns “the widespread violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human rights abuses by armed groups.”

Annan told the council Thursday that Syria failed to keep a commitment to pull troops and heavy weapons out of cities and towns, and the resolution calls on Assad’s government to “visibly” implement this pledge.

The resolution calls for the deployment of an advance team of up to 30 unarmed military observers to initiate contacts with both sides and begin to report on whether there has been “a full cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties.”

The council said it intends to immediately establish a larger U.N. supervision mission after consultations between Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Syrian government.

Deployment of a larger force will be “subject to a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties.”

Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, has said that Annan — who is an envoy on behalf of the U.N. and the Arab League — envisions a mission with about 250 observers. Troops already in the region from Asian, African and South American countries acceptable to Assad’s regime could be used for the mission, he said.

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