'Last chance' to avoid civil war in Syria: Annan

Kofi Annan
Damascus, May 9: UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan says his peace plan could be the last chance to avoid civil war in Syria, where a truce has failed to end 14 months of bloodshed that monitors say has killed nearly 12,000 people.

Annan told the UN Security Council yesterday that the priority in Syria was "to stop the killing," and expressed concern that torture, mass arrests and other human rights violations were intensifying. Regime forces "continue to press against the population," despite a putative truce that started on April 12, but attacks are more discreet because of the presence of UN military observers, diplomats quoted him as saying.

"The biggest priority, first of all we need to stop the killing," Annan told reporters in Geneva, adding that his six-point peace plan is "the only remaining chance to stabilise the country." Annan briefed the council on his efforts to get President Bashar al-Assad to implement the plan, which he said was possibly "the last chance to avoid civil war." He stressed, however, that the peace bid was not an "open-ended" opportunity for Assad, the diplomats who attended the briefing said.

Annan plans to return to Damascus in the coming weeks, his spokesman said yesterday, though this depended on events on the ground there. It would be only his second visit since his mission began earlier this year.

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Washington's goal was still the removal of Assad. "The United States remains focused on increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and on Assad himself to step down," Rice said. "The situation in Syria remains dire, especially for the millions who continue to endure daily attacks and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance," she told reporters after Annan's briefing.


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