By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — International envoy Kofi Annan blamed the failure of his peace plan primarily on the Syrian government Thursday and told the divided U.N. Security Council there must be "consequences" for those obstructing efforts to end the conflict.
Annan spoke amid more signs that diplomatic efforts to restore peace are floundering: U.N. observers came under fire Thursday as they tried to reach the site of the latest reported mass killing in Syria — about 80 people, including women and children who were shot or stabbed.
Annan said the time had come to step up the pressure to keep the violence from spiraling out of control. He urged the council to make clear that there will be "consequences" — usually a code words for sanctions — if his six-point peace plan is not fully implemented.
"Clearly, the time has come to determine what more can be done to secure implementation of the plan," Annan said. "We must also chart a clearer course for a peaceful transition, if we are to help the government and opposition, as well as Syrian society, to help resolve the crisis."
The U.S. and its European allies have tried unsuccessfully for months to threaten sanctions against Syria as the death toll has risen. But Russia and China, Syria's main allies, vetoed two Security Council resolutions that threatened possible sanctions, and they indicated their continuing opposition in a joint statement after a summit in Beijing on Wednesday. The statement also opposed any outside military interference or forceful imposition of "regime change" in Syria.
Annan confirmed for the first time that Syria is not implementing his peace plan. He urged the council and the rest of the international community to unite and act immediately to intensify pressure, especially on President Bashar Assad's government.
Otherwise, he warned that Syria will likely face a future of "brutal repression, massacres, sectarian violence, and even all-out civil war" in which "all Syrians will lose."
Annan said the international community had united behind his plan "but it now must take that unity to a new level" and "act as one."
After months of acrimonious debate and finger-pointing, the Annan plan was the first international measure that won support from Russia and China as well as the U.S. and Europe. But in the West, there is growing dismay at its unraveling, and the potential for a spillover across the region.
Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, stressed that "individual actions or interventions will not resolve the crisis" — an apparent reference to opposition fighters and the countries providing them with arms and financial support.
"If we genuinely unite behind one process, and act and speak with one voice, I believe it is still possible to avert the worst and enable Syria to emerge from this crisis," he said.
In his open briefing to the U.N. General Assembly earlier Thursday, Annan said he told Assad nine days ago in Damascus that he wasn't implementing the peace plan and strongly urged him "to take bold and visible steps to now radically change his military posture."
Annan said Assad called militants the main obstacle, but he told diplomats from the U.N.'s 193 member states that while all parties must cease violence, "equally clearly the first responsibility lies with the government."
Since his visit, Annan said "shelling of cities has intensified, government-backed militia seem to have free rein with appalling consequences ... and President Assad has not indicated a change of course."
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari insisted, however, that "the government of Syria has spared no efforts to implement its part of the Kofi Annan plan." He said an unjustifiable massacre is taking place in his country but insisted the government is not responsible.
Against the backdrop of the new massacre in Syria, U.N. diplomats had expected Annan to propose tasking a new "contact group" of world powers and key regional players, including Iran, to come up with a strategy to end the conflict.
But diplomats at the closed door Security Council meeting said he did not do so, focusing instead on the council itself and its need to unite.
The violence in Syria has grown increasingly chaotic in recent months, and it is difficult to assign blame for much of the bloodshed. The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts from either side. The opposition blames government forces and militias that support them known as shabihas while the government blames rebels and "armed terrorist groups."
At the start of the General Assembly meeting, assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser asked the 193-member world body to observe a minute of silence for Syrians killed in the latest massacres.
Annan expressed "horror and condemnation" at the new massacre.
"Those responsible for perpetrating these crimes must be held to account," he said. "We cannot allow mass killing to become part of everyday reality in Syria."
Ban called reports of another massacre "shocking and sickening," saying "each day seems to bring new additions to the grim catalog of atrocities."
He said it has been evident for many months that Assad and his government "have lost all legitimacy," adding that "any regime or leader that tolerates such killing of innocents has lost its fundamental humanity."
The U.N. chief strongly backed Annan's call for unity, saying the international community must recognize that the inability of the government or opposition to engage in political dialogue "makes the prognosis extremely grave."
Ban said the Annan plan remains the centerpiece of U.N. efforts, but in view of the deteriorating situation "I would welcome further international discussion on how we can act more effectively."
"No one can predict how the situation in Syria will evolve," the secretary-general said. "We must be prepared for any eventuality. We must be ready to respond to many possible scenarios."
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, who also addressed the assembly, called on all Arab states to recall their ambassadors and halt all diplomatic contact with the Syrian government. Earlier this month, it urged the Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria, a move welcomed Thursday by U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo.
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