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On Syria at UN, Some Cite Sovereignty to Give Visas, Amid Homs Crackdown

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 29, updated March 1 -- Problems have emerged in the UN Security Council with the draft press statement, which Inner City Press obtained and put online at 1:40 pm calling for Syria to grant the coordinator [Valerie Amos] immediate and unhindered access."

As the Security Council met about Sudan, one Council member told Inner City Press that visas are a matter of sovereignty." This member, it seems, would agree to a statement wanting Amos to get in, but not a demand.

  Another member scoffed to Inner City Press that no one should be talking about visas amid the type of crackdown going on in Homs. Another opined to Inner City Press that Syria is trying to gain time for the crackdown, not wanting Amos in the country while it is going on.

Update of 5 pm -- two representatives who had concerns about the draft below just told Inner City Press that a press statement could be agreed, with "calls" or "requests" instead of "demands;" another says "in a timely manner." 

(c) UN Photo
Amos in Haiti, Homs and visa not shown

   Ironically, Syria has written to the UN not only to complain about sanctions but also to ask for help with health care services. One wag, remember the Kofi Annan era "Oil for Food" program, mused of a possible "Oil for Medicine, Kofi II." Here again in the statement:


The members of the Security Council express their deep disappointment at the Syrian Government's failure to authorize the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator's visit to Syria, despite repeated requests and intense diplomatic contacts aimed at securing Syrian approval. The members of the Security Council demand that the Syrian authorities grant the coordinator immediate and unhindered access.

The members of the Security Council deplore the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, in particular the growing number of affected civilians, the lack of safe access to adequate medical services, and food shortages, particularly in areas affected by fighting such as Homs, Hama, Deraa, Idlib.

The members of the Security Council demand that the Syrian authorities immediately allow immediate, full and unimpeded humanitarian access for all populations in need of assistance, and call upon the Syrian government to cooperate fully with the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance and allow evacuation of the wounded from affected areas.

As Council consultations broke up back at 1:40 pm, one of the Western diplomats working on the draft asked Inner City Press, "Where did you get it? Don't --"

The diplomat seemed to be urging that the draft not be published, but did not explain why. Could the above be why? Specifically, that it makes it harder to make compromises, and doesn't have the shaming impact some thought that it might.

 We still work on the premise that those on the moral highground benefit from transparency. Watch this site.

Update of March 1: after China "broke silence," changes were made. The statement was agreed and read out at 1:25 pm on Thursday. Inner City Press asked the new President of the Council for March, the UK's Mark Lyall Grant, about two changes: from demands to call, and to "all parties in particularly the Syrian authorities" -- does the latter mean the Council sees a need to call on the Free Syrian Army to cooperate?

   Lyall Grant replied that the statement stands on its own account, and its power is that all 15 members supported it. He and the other four Permanent members of the Council met with Kofi Annan on Thursday morning but he would not summarize the "private" meeting.  Others in the Elected 10 members of the Council have to wait until tomorrow. Watch this site.

Update of March 1, 2:59 pm -- China has confirmed to Inner City Press that it broke silence because it thinks all parties should be called to cooperate, citing "the case of the journalist."

From the UK Mission transcript:

Inner City Press: Specifically on the statement, and I understand compromises are made, but there seems to be that ‘demand’ was changed to ‘calls for’  and the ‘focus on the Syrian government’ was changed to ‘all parties in Syria, particularly the Syrian authorities’. Is that simply a compromise reached with one or more members, or does it reflect some thinking in the Council, that even the Free Syrian Army or others, may need to be called on to cooperate with the UN?

Amb. Lyall Grant: The statement stands on its own account. It’s a unanimously agreed statement as Press Statements always are and the power of the statement is that it has all 15 members of the Security Council supporting it.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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