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West pushes U.N. Syria vote despite Russian criticism

by Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols, Reuters

April 13, 2012 | 4:39 pm

Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad after Friday prayers in Kafranbel, near Idlib on Apr. 13. Photo by REUTERS/Raad Al Fares/Shaam News Network/Handout

Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad after Friday prayers in Kafranbel, near Idlib on Apr. 13. Photo by REUTERS/Raad Al Fares/Shaam News Network/Handout

Western powers brushed aside Russian criticism of a U.S.-drafted Security Council resolution authorizing an advance team of U.N. observers to monitor Syria’s fragile ceasefire and said on Friday they hoped to put it to a vote this weekend.

The U.N. missions of Britain, France and Germany said the U.S.-drafted resolution was co-sponsored by Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and Morocco, the sole Arab nation on the council.

The draft, obtained by Reuters, calls for the initial deployment of up to 30 unarmed U.N. observers to Syria in line with a request by U.N.-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who had criticized an earlier version of the U.S. text, presented the 15-nation council with his own draft that Moscow would prefer to vote on.

“We have put together a shorter version of (the U.S.) text,” Churkin told reporters after closed-door discussions on Syria. “We had this understanding yesterday that it should be to the point, pragmatic, specific about putting in boots on the ground, (an) advance party of the monitoring team.”

Several diplomats said negotiations with Russia to find mutually acceptable language were slow and difficult. They said the council was unlikely to reach an agreement on Friday and they would likely reconvene on Saturday after delegations have had a chance to receive instructions from their capitals.

U.N. diplomats say Syrian ally Russia supports Annan’s peace efforts but is working hard to shield Damascus from what it sees as a Western push for Libya-style “regime change.” Russia and China have vetoed two resolutions condemning President Bashar al-Assad’s 13-month assault on anti-government protesters.

The competing draft resolutions are a response to Annan’s request that the council move quickly to get the first members of an observer force, which will ultimately have up to 250 monitors, in Syria to lock in the fragile ceasefire.

Several Western diplomats said negotiations were focusing on the U.S. draft, not the Russian one.

U.N. OBSERVERS ON STAND-BY

Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the U.N.-Arab League envoy hoped the council would pass the resolution on Friday.

“The (U.N.) Department of Peacekeeping Operations is working around the clock to find the necessary number of troops for the full observer mission eventually,” he said.

“At the moment we have the advance team standing by to board planes and to get there, to get themselves on the ground as soon as possible,” he said.

A U.N.-backed ceasefire aimed at halting more than a year of bloodshed in Syria appeared to be holding on Thursday, but forces loyal to Assad fought rebels near the border with Turkey on Friday, threatening the truce.

The latest U.S. draft would have the council say Damascus should “ensure full, unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement and access throughout Syria for all (observer) mission personnel as deemed necessary by the mission.” Russia’s draft, seen by Reuters, has deleted that paragraph.

The first U.S. draft had made a number of demands on the Syrian government and did not explicitly demand anything of the opposition. That, council diplomats said, annoyed Russia.

The new U.S. draft includes proposed Russian language about the rebels, saying the council “demands that all parties in Syria, including the opposition, immediately cease all armed violence in all its forms.”

It also has the council “condemning the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities, recalling that those responsible shall be held accountable.”

It ends with a vague threat of “further steps” by the council if Syria does not comply with the resolution.

Editing by Doina Chiacu and Mohammad Zargham

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