China's top paper says Syria "safe zone" would not work

BEIJING Mon Sep 3, 2012 4:02am BST

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top newspaper said on Monday that a Turkish proposal for a Syrian "safe zone" under foreign protection for civilians fleeing intensifying violence there would not help resolve the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country.

China has repeatedly condemned any plan which hints at outside interference in the Syrian crisis or proposes "regime change". Both China and Russia have vetoed proposed U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey fears a mass influx of refugees similar to the flight of half a million Iraqi Kurds into Turkey after the 1991 Gulf War.

But the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of China's ruling Communist Party, said safe zones would not work.

"The contributions of countries which neighbour Syria to appropriately looking after refugees deserves support, and it is understandable they are coming up with ideas to lessen the pressure on themselves," it wrote.

"But setting up 'safe zones' in Syria is not a good policy. As UNHCR chief António Guterres has clearly stated, the lessons from history show so-called 'safe zones' can provide next to no real protection for refugees."

France has supported Turkey's call for a safe zone and pressure for action has increased after the U.N. refugee agency said last month that Syria's exodus was accelerating.

Up to 200,000 people could settle in Turkey if the conflict worsens, according to the UNHCR.

Credible protection for "liberated" areas would require no-fly zones patrolled by foreign aircraft, but there is no chance of securing a U.N. Security Council mandate for such action, given opposition from veto-wielding members Russia and China.

The People's Daily said any efforts to help alleviate the problem must respect Syria's sovereignty and independence.

"Humanitarianism must not be politicised and nor should it be militarised," it wrote.

"We must certainly be on alert for the usual efforts of certain countries when it comes to the Syria issue of using 'humanitarianism' to interfere in the country's internal politics and (push) military intervention."

The commentary was published under the pen name "Zhong Sheng", meaning "Voice of China", which is often used to give the paper's view on foreign policy issues.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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