The U.N. Security Council has scheduled a vote Saturday on a resolution authorizing the deployment of the first wave of U.N. military observers to monitor a cease-fire between the Syrian government and opposition fighters which appears to be largely holding.
The draft resolution, obtained Friday night by The Associated Press, calls on both sides to immediately “cease all armed violence in all its forms” and calls on the Syrian government “to implement visibly” international envoy Kofi Annan’s demand that it pull troops and heavy weapons out of cities and towns.
The cease-fire, which formally took effect Thursday, is at the centre 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.
Security Council members met behind closed doors for several hours Friday to discuss rival drafts by the U.S. and its European allies and by Russia, Syria’s most important council ally.
Both called 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 implementation of “a full cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties” â€” and so does the final text.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, the current council president, announced that the council will vote at 11 a.m. EDT (1600 GMT) Saturday.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was waiting to see the final draft but told reporters, “I’m not completely satisfied with the outcome of the discussion.”
Churkin stressed, however, that “We want it to be a vote which will keep the Security Council united, which is crucial.”
Russia is Syria’s most powerful ally, and with China it has vetoed two Security Council resolutions that would have condemned President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on protesters who rose up against his authoritarian family’s 40-year rule.
Rice refused to predict how Russia would vote on Saturday, saying, “We’ve been to this movie so many times, let’s not.”
Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told a news conference in Geneva that an advance team of “around 10 or 12” observers, that could quickly be increased to 30, is “standing by to board planes and to get themselves on the ground as soon as possible” once the Security Council approves their deployment.
Troops already in the region from Asian, African and South American countries acceptable to Assad’s regime could be used for the mission, Fawzi said.
The draft resolution to be voted on â€” sponsored by the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Colombia and Morocco â€” expresses the council’s intention to immediately establish a larger U.N. supervision mission in Syria to monitor a cease-fire. Fawzi said additional Security Council approval will be required to increase the deployment to 250 observers.
While the resolution would only authorize a 30-strong advance team, it would spell out requirements for the Syrian government to support the observers including allowing the observers unimpeded freedom of movement and the right to interview any Syrian in private.
Russia’s Churkin eliminated them in his proposed text, but they remain in the final draft being put to a vote.
Russia also tried to drop a Western-backed call for condemnation of “the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities.” The final draft was changed to condemn “the widespread violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human rights abuses by armed groups.”
Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, asked the 15-nation Security Council to approve sending a U.N. observer mission as soon as possible.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned Friday against overly high expectations, given the small size of the initial team and the fact that it would not be able to be everywhere, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told reporters Friday that before any observers can be deployed, there would have to be a technical agreement on how the U.N. force will operate, Annan would have to make an independent report on the situation in Syria, and the Syrian government would have to approve the whole package.
In the first major test of the U.N.-brokered truce, thousands of Syrians poured into the streets Friday for anti-government protests, activists said. Security forces responded by firing in the air and beating some protesters, but there was no immediate sign of widespread shelling, sniper attacks or other potential violations of the cease-fire.
Fawzi told reporters the cease-fire has been “relatively respected” despite government troops and heavy weapons still in cities and continuing abuses.
“We hope both sides will sustain this calm, this relative calm,” Fawzi said. “We are thankful that there’s no heavy shelling, that the number of casualties are dropping, that the number of refugees who are crossing the borders are also dropping.”
Annan told the Security Council during a closed video briefing on Thursday he was “encouraged” at the start of a fragile cease-fire.
But Fawzi quoted Annan as telling the council that “the continued presence of Syrian armed forces, including armour, in and around population centres, must end immediately. Violence in all its forms, including arbitrary arrests, torture and abductions, must stop.”
John Heilprin contributed to this report from Geneva.