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New UN Syria envoy upsets both sides on first day

Tuesday, 21 August 2012 - 2:51pm IST | Place: CairoLondon | Agency: The Daily Telegraph

Lakhbar Brahimi, a 78-year-old Arab diplomat, said he would take no decision on the fate of the regime until he had met with leading figures at the UN and with Syria.

The new UN envoy on the Syrian crisis angered both sides of the conflict on his first day in the job on Monday amid a bitter war of words over the future of international peace efforts.

Lakhbar Brahimi, a 78-year-old Arab diplomat, was pilloried by Damascus for suggesting Syria was in a civil war, and condemned by the opposition for backtracking on his predecessor's belief that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office to stop the bloodshed.

In an uncertain performance that dismayed supporters of the veteran Algerian foreign minister, who has been a troubleshooter in Lebanon and Iraq, Brahimi said he would take no decision on the fate of the regime until he had met with leading figures at the UN and with Syria.

A Syrian foreign ministry statement criticised Brahimi, after saying the conflict had reached civil war.

"There are a lot of people who say that we must avoid civil war in Syria; me I believe that we are already there for some time now," Brahimi said. "What's necessary is to stop the civil war and that is not going to be easy."

Syrian officials retorted that promoting talk of civil war amounted to joining the "conspiracy" against it.

"To speak of civil war in Syria contradicts reality and is found only in the head of conspirators," a spokesperson for the government said.

Brahimi also incurred the wrath of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) after he refused to endorse remarks by Kofi Annan, the previous envoy, that Assad must quit. "I am a mediator and a mediator has to speak to anybody and everybody without influence or interest," he told the BBC. "Then I'll make up my mind about what to say and what to do."

The SNC said such remarks took the pressure off the regime. "Whoever gives this criminal regime an opportunity to kill tens of thousands more Syrians and destroy what is left of Syria does not want to recognise the extent of the tragedy," it said.

In an illustration of the pressures facing any envoy, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, attacked countries providing assistance to the opposition for undermining the role of the UN. "Syria's situation is important and causing worry not only because of the bloodshed but also because the outcome of this drama will impact the way conflicts will be resolved; either following the UN Charter, or democracy by bombs, will win," he said.

Turkey increased pressure for international efforts to contain the regime by formally raising the prospect of creating a safe zone for refugees inside Syria, saying it could not cope with many more arriving inside its border.

"If the number of refugees in Turkey surpasses 1,00,000, we will run out of space to accommodate them," Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister, told the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. "We should be able to accommodate them in Syria. The United Nations may build camps in a safe zone within Syria's borders."

An estimated 70,000 Syrians have fled over the northern borders into Turkey. Tens of thousands more have fled their towns and villages but stayed in the country with relatives or in makeshift camps in schools and government buildings.

Some towns and villages are almost deserted. The last residents of Anadan, a town eight miles north of Aleppo, said some had fled to small villages nearby, which were said to be safer from aerial attack, and some to the border.

But the numbers are threatening to overwhelm facilities provided by Turkey. Fighting broke out at the camp in Kilis, north of Aleppo, last month where conditions have deteriorated badly as the heat of summer advances and food supplies dwindle.

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