Security Council to end UN observer mission in Syria

UNITED NATIONS- The UN Security Council meets on Thursday to formally end the UN observer mission in Syria amid entrenched divisions between the major powers over the conflict-stricken country.
Russia and China hit out at western nations over Syria ahead of the meeting, which also comes as UN leader Ban Ki-moon struggles to persuade Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to become the new international envoy on the conflict.

The mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) ends at midnight on Sunday and the split between the powers means there is no hope of agreeing a renewal, diplomats said.
The best that can be hoped for is that the 15-member council agrees to keep a political liaison office in Damascus to support the efforts of whoever takes over from Kofi Annan as the UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, diplomats said.
The original 300 unarmed observers have already been cut back to 110 because of the intensified violence which forced them to suspend patrols in mid-June. More are expected to leave before the deadline.
"The Security Council is so polarized that I don't expect any decision in political terms," said France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud, the council president for August.
The United States, Britain and France have condemned Russia and China for vetoing three council resolutions that criticized President Bashar al-Assad and would have threatened sanctions over the conflict which has now lasted 17 months.
They say it is too dangerous for the UN observers to stay.
Russia, Syria's key political backer, and China in turn accuse the western nations of only agitating for the removal of Assad.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday accused Western states of fomenting violence by openly supporting the armed opposition. He called for backing for an agreement made by the international powers in Geneva on June 30 that there should be a political transition in Syria.
"What was accomplished in Geneva should not be sabotaged," Lavrov told reporters in Belarus.
"Some Western countries have never given up the goal of 'regime change' in Syria and constantly reinforced their support for the anti-government forces," said a commentary in the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of China's ruling Communist Party.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "There's no question that we are endeavoring, through our support to the opposition, to hasten the day when the violence ends, when Assad leaves power and when a democratic transition can begin."
Nuland criticized Russia for the UN vetoes and added: "I would ask the question who is doing the most now to try to hasten the day?"
The French envoy told reporters that he believed there was a "consensus" among Security Council members that the United Nations must remain in Syria even if UNSMIS is ended.
Araud said the UN needs an "on duty special envoy" in case there is hope of achieving a political end to the civil war.
"I do understand really the skepticism, but the UN simply can't leave the room."
Brahimi remained in negotiations with UN leader Ban Ki-moon about taking over from Annan who will leave the post on August 31.
Diplomats said the former Algerian foreign minister and UN envoy to Iraq and Afghanistan was seeking a show of support from the Security Council -- particularly the major powers -- as a condition for accepting.
Ban said Wednesday he had no news about who would take over from Annan. "I am in the process of actively searching for a successor and when I am ready I will certainly announce this as soon as possible."

Thursday, August 16th 2012

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