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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia Urges Syria to Act on Annan Peace Plan

RIA Novosti

18:00 10/04/2012

MOSCOW, April 10 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti) - MOSCOW, April 10 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti) – Russia criticized the Syrian authorities on Tuesday over their efforts on UN envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan and said Damascus needed to show more decisiveness to end the violence in the Middle East country.

“We think they could be taking more action and be more decisive in the way they carry out the plan,” Lavrov told journalists after a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem in Moscow.

Annan’s plan stipulates the withdrawal of Syrian government forces and heavy weaponry from towns and cities by Tuesday and the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire by April 12. That deadline has now passed.

Lavrov said Muallem had told him army units had begun carrying out the plan’s requirements on “the use of weapons,” but gave no specific details on withdrawals.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said later on Tuesday that Syria had informed Moscow that government forces had “partially withdrawn from Homs,” a rebel city that has seen heavy shelling of residential areas, according to Syrian opposition activists.

France said that Syria’s claims to have begun implementing the plan were “an unacceptable lie” and that it would bring the issue up at a meeting of the foreign ministers of G8 member states in Washington on April 11-12.

Lavrov added that Russia would answer a UN call for member states to send observers to Syria to monitor the ceasefire.

Muallem said after his meeting with Lavrov that the ceasefire should begin simultaneously with the arrival of the observers.

Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the UN and the current Security Council president, told CNN on Monday that the Annan plan is "the last viable chance for there to be a negotiated settlement."

Russian Influence?

Lavrov stressed on Tuesday that Russia was interested in resolving the conflict, and not finding an “answer to the question of who is guilty – this can wait. The most important thing now is what we do.”

But experts were doubtful that Russia would have any real influence on Syria.

“The majority of requests coming from Moscow have so far been ignored or not fulfilled,” said Alexander Shumilin, head of the Middle East Conflicts Analysis Center at Russia's US and Canada Institute. “Why should this meeting be a breakthrough?”

The New York-based Human Rights Watch organization said on Monday in a report that Syrian government forces had executed scores of people in rebel towns and cities since December 2011.

Syria's main rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, has rejected demands by Damascus that opposition forces provide written guarantees that they will stick to the ceasefire, but says it will stop fighting if government forces do likewise.

And Lavrov was keen to emphasis on Tuesday that Syrian opposition forces also needed to demonstrate their own commitment to the peace plan and urged the United States and other countries to use their “levers” of influence on rebel groups to force all sides to “stop shooting at each other.”

The Friends of Syria group, which includes the United States and the United Kingdom, suggested earlier this month arming Syrian rebels, a proposal that Russia said would merely prolong the conflict.

Russia’s top diplomat also warned that Moscow would not ignore the “the well-known fact that Kofi Annan’s proposals were not approved by many opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council.”

Russia has vetoed UN Security Council resolutions on Syria over what it says is a pro-rebel bias, but gave its full backing to Annan’s peace plan, which Damascus also supported. Lavrov said he would discuss the plan further with Annan in a telephone conversation later on Tuesday. Annan met with Syrians displaced by the fighting at a refugee camp in Turkey on Tuesday.

Violence Spreading

Some 9,000 people have been killed in clashes between the government and the opposition in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, according to UN estimates.

And violence spread into neighboring Turkey and Lebanon for the first time on Monday, as Syrian forces fired across borders, killing three people.

Muallem accused Turkey on Tuesday of backing Syria rebel groups by “supplying them with arms and creating a base for the preparation of illegal incursions by fighters onto Syrian territory.”

Lavrov said he had received assurances from Turkey that it would not respond militarily to the cross-border shootings.

“Turkey is not planning any unilateral action,” he said.

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