Advance team of U.N. observers arrives in Syria

United Nations peacekeeper uniform badge, U.N. Security Council, AP

AP
(CBS News) DAMASCUS - A six-man advance team of United Nations monitors arrived in Damascus on Sunday to prepare for a full observation mission in Syria as promptly as possible, as part of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point plan for ending the violence which has ravaged the country for more than a year.

The observers departed for Syria shortly after the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to authorize the mission.

The observers' aim is to monitor and help maintain the still-shaky cease-fire between the government of President Bashar Al-Assad and armed opposition fighters.

The unarmed military team, headed by an Indian general, is expected to be on the ground in blue helmets as early as tomorrow. They will be augmented by additional personnel on Monday, and 25 to 30 more observers in the coming days, according to U.N. spokesman Khaled Massri.

Assuming the cease-fire holds, the 15-nation council will be asked to approve a full mission of about 250 observers, based on a report by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon next week.

Syrian officials welcomed the arrival of the "technical" team, and said Damascus was committed to the U.N. plan, which calls for the government to ensure unimpeded freedom of movement for the observers and the ability to interview anyone they want to in private, in addition to unimpeded access for humanitarian workers.

Assad's political and media advisor Buthaina Shaaban told reporters it was in Syria's interest to have the U.N. team on the ground because, he said, "that would show who is doing the killing, kidnapping and destruction."

The Security Council resolution would also require Syrian troops and heavy weapons (which have remained in cities and towns contrary to the government's promises) withdraw to their barracks.

The unrest in Syria began in March 2011 with peaceful protests but has become increasingly militarized. The fighting has killed an estimated 9,000 people.

In many areas the cease-fire has been breached, and in parts of the central city of Homs it has collapsed altogether, with the violence reaching levels approaching those prevailing before the ceasefire came into effect on Thursday.

Both sides accuse each other of violating the truce.

  • George Baghdadi

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