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Arms flowing to both sides in Syria

03 July 2012, 08:40

New York - The Syrian government and the rebels are receiving more and more weapons, which is fuelling violence in a 16-month conflict that the United Nations says has killed more than 10 000 people, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Monday.

"The ongoing provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents feeds additional violence," Pillay said in the written text of remarks she made to the UN Security Council. "Any further militarisation of the conflict must be avoided at all costs."

"There is a risk of escalation," she told reporters after the closed-door meeting.

Pillay said she was now calling the situation in Syria "a non-international internal armed conflict", the legal term for a civil war. Once that term is used, diplomats say, it means the Geneva Conventions on armed conflict apply.

She did not say where the weapons were coming from, though Russia and Iran are among the Syrian government's key suppliers. UN diplomats say Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been transferring arms to Syria's increasingly militarised opposition.

Pillay reiterated her position that the 15-nation council should refer the issue of Syria's conflict to the International Criminal Court in The Hague because crimes against humanity and other war crimes may have been committed by both sides.
UN monitors

The mandate of the UN observer mission in Syria is set to expire on July 20. Council diplomats say that one of the most likely scenarios, given the escalating violence and lack of a viable political process, is to reduce or eliminate the unarmed military observers and keep only a largely civilian operation.

French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said one of the options under consideration was to "downgrade" the observer mission, known as UNSMIS.

Pillay, however, urged the council to take the opposite approach and strengthen the mission's mandate. The Arab League has called on the United Nations to increase the size of the 300-strong monitoring force, possibly making them peacekeepers by giving them arms to protect themselves and Syrian civilians.

"An UNSMIS presence in the country remains vital," she said. "While considering its reconfiguration, I urge this council to support and strengthen UNSMIS' mandate to enable it to effectively monitor and report on the human rights situation in Syria."

UNSMIS, which was deployed to monitor international mediator Kofi Annan's April 12 ceasefire plan that never took hold, suspended most of its operations on June 16 due to the violence.

Unity government

This weekend's meeting of major powers on Syria in Geneva produced an agreement on a possible unity government in Damascus, though council diplomats said privately they were skeptical about whether it would have any impact on the ground.

Araud said the Geneva agreement was "the utmost we could get given the divisions within the international community".

Syria's ally Russia, along with China, have vetoed two Security Council resolutions criticising the Syrian government and threatening it with possible UN sanctions.

- Reuters


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