Syria mediator seeks to revive U.N. ceasefire plan - envoys

UNITED NATIONS Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:26am BST

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N.-Arab League mediator in the Syria conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, is attempting to persuade the Syrian government and rebels to accept a ceasefire and allow U.N. monitors into the country to oversee the truce, diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Brahimi, who took over from Kofi Annan after the former U.N. secretary-general resigned in frustration in August, has been travelling around the Middle East urging key regional powers to use their influence and to discuss his ideas for a possible ceasefire plan, ideas that are broadly similar to a failed ceasefire Annan tried to implement, U.N. envoys said on Tuesday.

Diplomatic sources familiar with Brahimi's proposals said on condition of anonymity that neither the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad nor the fractious opposition has shown the slightest interest in halting the 19-month-long conflict that has killed an estimated 30,000 people.

Nor is there is any sign that Saudi Arabia or Qatar, which Syria has accused along with Turkey of arming and financing the rebels, have warmed up to Brahimi's ideas about how to end Syria's civil war.

"As long as the Security Council remains deadlocked because of Russia and China protecting Assad, it's hard to imagine Assad stopping, unless the rebels defeat his army, which isn't going to happen anytime soon," a Western diplomat said.

Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions condemning Assad's government and calling for an end to the conflict. They have also rejected the idea of imposing sanctions on Syria.

Brahimi's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the veteran Algerian diplomat was not moving too quickly with any proposals following the failure of Annan's plan.

"He firmly believes in not rushing to submit a plan that could fail again," Fawzi said, adding that Brahimi will put a plan on the table "as soon as possible, but only when he feels that it is possible."

CONTINGENCY PLANS

During a visit to Tehran on Sunday, Brahimi appealed to Iranian leaders to help arrange a ceasefire in Syria during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins around October 25. Brahimi has also visited Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraq to meet with officials and enlist their support for ending the conflict.

"The idea is that this ceasefire could open the door to something more sustained," a Western diplomat told Reuters. "But it's not clear how realistic this idea is. Annan tried and failed to do the same thing."

If there is a more sustained ceasefire, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations has told Brahimi that it could theoretically put together a force of up to 3,000 monitors who would separate the warring sides to ensure that fighting does not resume, diplomats said.

"Brahimi is telling the key parties to the conflict that such a plan is theoretically possible," the diplomat said. His comments were verified by a senior U.N. diplomatic source.

"The contingency plans are purely theoretical and no Western countries have pledged troops for it," the diplomat added.

Sending any U.N. monitors to Syria would require a U.N. Security Council mandate.

Fawzi said the main purpose of Brahimi's trip to the region was "to persuade those with influence to exercise it effectively on the parties, and learn as much as possible about the history, and the intricate and complex nature of this conflict."

It was also "to sound out those governments on the many ideas that are formulating in his head," he added.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week said he urged Assad's government to implement a unilateral ceasefire, though he added that the government reacted coolly to the idea.

Western diplomats said Ban was urging Brahimi to press ahead with his unilateral ceasefire plan.

Under Annan's proposed truce, some 300 monitors and around 100 civilian experts began deploying to Syria in April to oversee a ceasefire that was never realized. As the conflict worsened, the Security Council allowed the force's mandate to lapse and the unarmed monitoring team withdrew in August.

(Editing by Will Dunham and Eric Beech)

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