Syria's "friends" urge Annan to set timeline

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 01, 2012 10:39 AM
Syria's "friends" urge Annan to set timeline

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Western and Arab nations urged peace envoy Kofi Annan on Sunday to set a timeline for next steps, including a return to the U.N. Security Council, if President Bashar al-Assad fails to halt bloodshed in Syria.

The "Friends of Syria" said, in a final communique obtained by Reuters, that Assad did not have an open-ended opportunity to meet his commitments to Annan, who is mediating on behalf of the United Nations and Arab League.

"The regime will be judged by its deeds rather than its promises," the group of 83 nations said. Security Council members China and Russia and Syria's ally Iran were among countries that stayed away from the conference in Istanbul.

Assad has accepted, but not yet implemented, Annan's six-point peace plan, which calls for the military to cease fire, withdraw from towns and cities, and allow humanitarian access.

"We will not let the Syrian regime misuse another opportunity, which is the last chance for the situation in Syria," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference after the meeting.

The "Friends of Syria" recognized the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) as a legitimate representative of all Syrians, and "noted" it as the main opposition interlocutor with the international community, wording that stopped short of full recognition of a group hampered by chronic disunity.

The group made no mention of supporting or arming the rebel Free Syrian Army, as advocated by some Gulf Arab states, but said it would "continue to work on additional appropriate measures with a view to the protection of the Syrian people".

Western powers have been wary of military intervention in Syria, but Davutoglu sounded an alarm bell, comparing the situation there to the plight of Bosnia in the 1990s.

"In the case of Bosnia, the international community was too slow ... therefore we lost many people," he said. "In the case of Syria, the international community should not be late as in the case of Bosnia. We have to act without delay."

The Turkish minister said: "We have to have one unified position to defend the civilians and we have to have one action plan and initiative to have aid and stop violence in Syria."

The "Friends of Syria" underscored a commitment to Syria's sovereignty, independence, political unity and territorial integrity, criticizing the government's "widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms".

They urged Syrians, especially those serving in the military, security agencies and government, "not to be a part of the atrocities committed by the regime".

The group called for international action to deny arms supplies to the Syrian government, and demanded humanitarian access, including daily two-hour pauses in fighting to allow aid to be delivered.

(Writing by Daren Butler and Alistair Lyon; Editing by Kevin Liffey)