UNITED NATIONS (AP) – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday singled out Syria’s government for censure, telling it to halt its violent crackdown on the dissidents and rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime, and denounced an armed attack on a convoy carrying the military chief of the UN observer mission.
Ban noted that his peacekeeping chief, Herve Ladsous, recently went to Syria where he “called on the government to end its use of heavy weapons and demonstrate the commitment to ending the armed violence. Government officials have repeatedly said they would honor these commitments. We are still waiting for them to act.”
“The government is adding to its brutal crackdown by attacking heavily populated areas with fighter aircraft and helicopters. The armed opposition groups have also stepped up their attacks,” Ban told reporters on his return from an overseas trip.
The UN’s military observer force in Syria has been sidelined by the violence and lack of political will in the Security Council. Ban said that more than a dozen armored vehicles used by the military observers have been destroyed by blasts and shelling, and a convoy carrying the general heading the force was targeted on Sunday.
“Yesterday, the convoy of Lt. Gen. (Babacar) Gaye was attack by armed attacks. Fortunately there were no injuries,” Ban said.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq added later that the UN had learned that the five-vehicle convoy was hit by small arms fire Sunday in Talbisa,17 kilometers (10 1/2 miles) away from Homs. Two of the five vehicles were hit by bullets.
The UN observer mission’s latest 30-day mandate is due to expire in August, and the United States, Britain and France do not want to see it extended under these circumstances.
“It’s important, again, that the Syrian government must fully cooperate with the UN mission and must cease these violent measures. We are deeply concerned that they are using all kinds of heavy equipment, including military airplanes, attack helicopters and heavy weaponry This is an unacceptable situation. Every day, more than 100 people are being killed. This cannot go on this way. Therefore I have been urging … Syrian authorities and opposition forces to stop fighting, and leave it to political resolution, through political dialogue.”
Turning to fears of a wider Middle East war, Ban said: “A sectarian civil war would also gravely imperil Syria’s neighbors,” Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.
“As many as 2 million people are affected by violence. More fighting is not the answer. Further militarization of this conflict will only perpetuate the devastation, and prolong he suffering,” Ban said.
Syria recently acknowledged for the first time that it possesses chemical weapons, but said it would only use them if the country came under foreign attack.
This prompted Ban to chide Damascus again:
“Let me also reiterate my concern about weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons.”
“The use of these arms is prohibited under international law. Any use of such weapons would be an outrageous crime and a major concern for the entire international community. I call on the government to renounce the possibility of using these weapons under any circumstances, and to insure the safety and security of stockpiles,” Ban said.
The UN Security Council has been stalemated over Western and Arab attempts to impose sanctions on Assad’s government. China and Russia have vetoed attempts to move toward a sanctions regime.
With the Security Council bogged down, Saudi Arabia is circulating a draft General Assembly resolution demanding an end to the violence in Syria, backing political dialogue and transition, and calling for Syria’s chemical weapons to be held secure.
However, General Assembly resolutions are not enforceable by sanctions or military intervention. No date has been set for the introduction of the Saudi Arabia-sponsored, Arab-backed draft resolution.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.