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Syria will test all Kofi Annan's powers of persuasion

The Editor, The Times Newspaper | 2012-02-28 00:11:14.0
Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. File photo REUTERS/Noor Khamis
Image by: NOOR KHAMIS

The Times Editorial: The appointment of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan as the UN-Arab League joint special envoy on Syria is a significant milestone in the international community's response to one of the world's most pressing humanitarian crises.

During his tenure at the helm of the UN (1997 to 2006) the soft-spoken Annan developed a reputation as a tough but fair-minded negotiator adept at conflict resolution.

Annan - who won the Nobel Peace Prize (together with the UN) in 2001 and is a member of the Elders group of eminent persons brought together by Nelson Mandela - will certainly bring global stature to his new role as the world's point man on Syria.

But he will have his work cut out in ending the bloody crackdown on a popular uprising by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

Already, more than 7300 people have been killed as Assad's forces step up their bombardment of opposition strongholds in cities such as Homs.

As troops continue to defect to the opposition from Assad's still-powerful army, observers are increasingly pointing to the danger of the Syrian conflict spiralling into a bloody civil war that could destabilise the Middle East.

The UN's response to the crisis has been hamstrung by Russia and China, both key Assad allies, which have vetoed any tough action against the Syrian government, saying it would lead to Libya-style regime change.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold an emergency debate in Geneva today to discuss ways to head off a humanitarian catastrophe.

It seems that, in the short term, the best the international community can hope for is a cessation of the bombardment of Homs and other opposition strongholds to pave the way for the eventual deployment of a civilian peacekeeping mission.

Persuading Assad to accept such an intervention will take all of Annan's powers of persuasion.

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