Kofi Annan calls for Syria national unity government; UN plans for 200,000 refugees

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UN Syria envoy Kofi Annan is calling for a national unity government in Syria as a way out of the escalating conflict that has seen Syria’s refugee population more than double since March to almost 100,000 people.

Annan’s proposal, contained in a diplomatic ‘non-paper,’ comes as he convenes a meeting of the newly-formed Action Group on Syria–the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Turkey and the Arab League–in Geneva on Saturday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will represent Washington at the gathering.

“The conflict in Syria will only end when all sides are assured that there is a peaceful way towards a common future for all in Syria,” Annan’s diplomatic memo– entitled ‘Non-paper, guidelines and principles for a Syria-led transition,’ and posted by the UN-Report blog, states:

It is therefore essential that any settlement provides for clear and irreversible steps in transition according to a fixed time frame. The key steps in any transition include: – The establishment of a Transitional Government of National Unity which can establish a neutral environment in which the transition can take place

The national unity government “could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups,” the non-paper says, “but would exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation”–namely, Bashar al-Assad.

Annan, announcing the Action Group Wednesday, defined its objectives as to forge international consensus on “concrete actions” to lead to a cessation of violence, that has claimed almost 15,000 lives. Clinton and Russia’s Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in St. Petersburg, Russia Friday, ahead of attending the Geneva forum.  Iran and Saudi Arabia were both denied invitations to the Action Group meeting, as a compromise based on the U.S.’ insistence Iran be excluded.

The meeting comes as the Independent Commission of Inquiry for Syria this week delivered an interim report that found that militarization of the Syria conflict is intensifying, as arms flow to anti-regime groups.”The main thing we identified is an intensification of military conflict as anti-government armed groups have acquired more weapons, more people and they are able to do their own kind of damage against the Syrian army, and acquire some territory–at least temporarily,” Karen AbuZayd, a member of the Commission, told Al-Monitor in an interview Wednesday from Geneva.

“This is an armed insurrection, not just a little guerrilla warfare … and it is much worse for the people,” AbuZayd said. Meantime, Assad regime forces continue their full fledged assault on Syrian population centers, based on patterns they have employed over the past year: prolonged shelling of the town, entering the city and targeting populations with unlawful killings, torture, etc., “moving from one place to the other,” AbuZayd said.

“The shelling of Homs has been going on for almost three weeks,” she said. “There is no electricity, water or food.” The Syrian Red Crescent has tried three times to enter the city to bring humanitarian aid and get wounded people out, but has not been successful. “Some people are really suffering.”

The commission’s findings were based in large part on its investigators’ interviews with swelling Syrian refugee populations in Turkey and Jordan.

The Syrian refugee population is now approaching 100,000–more than a doubling since March, the UN refugee agency said Thursday. It has prepared contingency plans for that number to almost double again to 185,000 by the end of the year, as civilians flee full-blown armed conflict.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued an emergency appeal Thursday for $193 million to deal with the exploding Syria refugee flows.

“It is essential that the international community steps up its support for relief operations for refugees,” UNHCR’s Syria refugee coordinator Panos Moumtzis said Thursday in the appeal, which noted an average of 500 Syrians fleeing the country per day to neighboring countries, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. Seventy percent of the Syrian refugees are women and children, the agency said.

(Photo: Bodies of people, whom residents say were killed by shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, lie in a mosque in Douma near Damascus June 28, 2012. Picture taken June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout (Reuters notes  this image has been supplied by a third party and it is distributed exactly as received by Reuters.)