Turkey: Annan plan is last chance for Syria

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, unseen, at the Great Hall of People in Beijing March 27, 2012. AP Photo

(AP) ISTANBUL - Turkey said Friday that a peace plan by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan is the "last chance" for the embattled Syrian regime and that it will face "strong measures" from the international community if it fails to implement the deal.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu did not specify what those measures might be, saying it was the responsibility of the U.N. Security Council to address the matter. However, Russia and China have blocked action at the United Nations against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Turkey and its allies are frustrated over the lack of international consensus on the Syrian crackdown.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar want to arm Syrian rebels, but Turkey and the United States have so far resisted the idea amid doubts over the composition of scattered opposition forces and fears that an influx of weapons into Syria could escalate the conflict. Turkey, which shares a long border with Syria, is making contingency plans for a buffer zone in Syria if refugee flows become overwhelming.

Davutoglu said there was a danger that Syria might try to use Annan's plan as a way to buy time, promising to stop its attacks on the opposition, which includes rebel groups, but actually continuing with repression even though it agreed to the envoy's proposals.

"We support this initiative. At the same time, we know from the previous experiences that if the regime perceives that there is a new time being given to them because of this initiative, they continue to oppress more and to do more killing," he said.

Annan's plan calls for an immediate, two-hour halt in fighting everyday to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations. The plan also outlines a complete cease-fire, but that will take more time because Syria must first move troops and equipment out of cities and towns. But clashes and protests broke out across many parts of Syria Friday in a sign of how hard it will be for the plan to take hold.

Davutoglu, whose government has said Assad should resign, described Annan's plan as the beginning of a process. The six-point deal also calls for an inclusive, Syrian-led political process to address the concerns of citizens.

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"That's the minimum — what the regime must do and must do urgently without any delay," he said. "If that delay continues and people are being killed every day, more and more casualties being in the news, of course the hope for the Annan plan will be lost."

He said: "This is the last chance and the regime must understand that if they miss this last chance, they will be facing certain strong measures by the international community."

On Sunday, delegates from dozens of countries will attend a "Friends of the Syrian People" meeting in Istanbul, which follows an inaugural meeting in Tunisia in February. One of the main goals is to encourage the divided Syrian opposition to unify so that it can present a solid alternative to Assad's regime.

Another goal is to press Syria to allow aid to reached beleaguered communities in Syria. Davutoglu cited statistics to describe what he called a "devastating humanitarian tragedy" — 10,000 dead, an unknown number of people missing, more than 30,000 injured, some 70,000 arrested, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes.

He said the world should not make the mistakes of the past, citing its failure to send a "clear message" for three years to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic during the Bosnian war, as well as to Saddam Hussein during his attacks on Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s.

The foreign minister and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan returned this week from a trip to Iran, a staunch supporter of Syria that rejects Turkish assertions that Assad should step down.

"They share the same concerns regarding the continuation of the killings and they all said that they are also very upset and they do not endorse this type of continuation of violence," Davutoglu said. He acknowledged, however, that there were "different opinions about the situation on the ground."

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