UN envoy sees no quick end to Syria war
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned on Monday that he sees no quick end to the war in Syria, accusing President Bashar al-Assad of clinging to the “old” regime and shunning reform.
Brahimi told the divided UN Security Council in a closed door hearing that Assad’s government is using “medieval” torture on people in secret detention centres and ignoring all calls for change.
Syria will be one of the dominant themes of the UN General Assembly, which starts on Tuesday with US President Barack Obama expected to lead international condemnation of Assad and of the intensified battle for Aleppo and other cities.
But despite Brahimi’s warnings and the pleas of Western leaders, envoys see little hope of piercing Russian and Chinese resistance to international pressure on the Syrian government.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon held talks with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi which a UN spokesman said “focused on the deteriorating situation in Syria with its alarming regional implications”.
“There is no prospect for today or tomorrow to move forward,” Brahimi told reporters after briefing the 15-nation Security Council on his recent talks with Assad.
Brahimi said he had told Assad and others in Syria that there had to be “change” but acknowledged that for the moment there was a “stalemate”.
“There is no disagreement anywhere that the situation in Syria is extremely bad and getting worse, that it is a threat to the region,” Brahimi said outside the council.
Inside the closed meeting, he told UN envoys that “there is no safe place for those who are caught in violence, which is now engulfing almost the entire country,” according to a text of his speech.
“The sad truth is that a Syrian citizen, man, woman or teenager, does not need to do much these days to be picked up by one of the many security agencies,” he said.
He said there were estimates of more than 30,000 people detained in jail “or in one of the much feared ‘secret’ detention centres where maltreatment and medieval forms of torture are so common”.
More than 1,000 people had died under “severe torture”, he added.
Brahimi outlined the desperate humanitarian struggle to help at least 1.5 million people who have fled their homes and at least 280,000 who are in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.
Food shortages are worsening because the harvest has been devastated by the conflict, medical supplies are barely available and people are scared to go to hospitals because of the presence of “security agents”.
“Millions of lives have already been shattered,” he added.
But Brahimi said that for Assad, “the aim is still to keep or return to the old Syria, even if much is said about dialogue and reform”. Between them, Assad and his late father have ruled Syria for more than 40 years.
“Popular demand for change, not reforms, is hardly recognised by the government. The crisis is seen mainly as a foreign conspiracy engineered from abroad.”
He said there are foreign fighters in Syria, but while the government puts the figure at 5,000, other estimates were of less than 2,000.
Brahimi said the Syrian opposition had to unite to form a negotiating platform and the Security Council had to unite behind his mediation efforts.
Brahimi’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, appealed for the Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria, but Russia and China have vetoed three UN resolutions which had spoken of possible sanctions.
But the envoy said he would persevere.
“I think that we will find an opening in the not too distant future. I refuse to believe that reasonable people do not see that you cannot go backward, that you cannot go back to the Syria of the past,” he told reporters.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after meeting Brahimi that the Syria crisis was “grave” and the international community must back the envoy’s efforts.
Westerwelle said he hoped the condemnation of the Syria conflict by Arab leaders would be “a wake up call to those who still hesitate to denounce the violence caused by the regime in Syria.”