UN plans for Syria peacekeeping force if ceasefire holds

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The United Nations has made plans to assemble a peacekeeping force for Syria if a ceasefire proposed by a special envoy takes hold, AFP reported a top U.N. official saying on Monday.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous stressed however that planning was very tentative while fighting rages in Syria and would be dependent on the U.N. Security Council overcoming its bitter divisions on the 19-month-old conflict.

“We are getting ourselves ready to act if it is necessary and a mandate is approved,” Ladsous told reporters when asked about reports of the force being prepared.

U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi appealed to President Bashar al-Assad at the weekend to observe a ceasefire during a Muslim holiday this week. Fighting has shown no sign of easing, however.

Ladsous said a figure of 3,000 troops in a force for Syria, given by some media reports, was “completely theoretical.”

Any force would need the approval of the 15-nation Security Council, which has been deadlocked on Syria since the start of the conflict.

Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions which could have led to a threat of sanctions against the Assad government.

A U.N. observer mission was sent to Syria for three months this year. But the 300 unarmed troops were withdrawn because of the mounting dangers and the Assad government’s rejection of political moves to end the crisis.

"Right now the focus is really on Lakhdar Brahimi’s efforts to achieve a ceasefire, whether temporary or more durable,” Ladsous said, dampening immediate hopes for a force.

But he added: “I would confirm that of course we are giving a lot of thought to what would happen if and when a political solution, or at least a ceasefire would emerge.”

He went on to say that “subject to what the Security Council might decide eventually, we are giving thoughts to what we could do contribute ... within in the framework of a solution, to provide security, to possibly protect civilians.”

Ladsous said the size of any force would depend on the tasks it was given.

Anti-Assad fighters pessimistic

Anti-Syrian fighters cast doubt on Monday on prospects for a temporary truce aimed at stemming bloodshed in the 19-month-old conflict, saying it was not clear how an informal ceasefire this week could be implemented.

On Monday the British-based group reported army shelling in Deir al-Zor in the east and Deraa in the south, as well as heavy clashes in towns and suburbs around the capital Damascus.

“This truce is just a media bubble. Who is going to implement it and who is going to supervise it?” said Colonel Qassem Saadeddine, a former army officer who defected and is now head of a rebel military council in Homs province.

“We are still committed to any UN decision. But on this truce...what is the mechanism to implement it?” Saadeddine, who is also spokesman of the joint command of the Free Syrian Army inside Syria, told Reuters.

He said anti-Assad fighters had implemented the last ceasefire in Syria - an April 12 deal brokered by former mediator Kofi Annan - but that Assad’s forces had not honored it. Syrian authorities say it was they who implemented and fighters who broke the ceasefire.

Another rebel commander in Damascus, who declined to be named, was more blunt: “The truce will not happen. We will not accept it. It's not in our interest,” he said, adding that a three-day truce would achieve little anyway.

Meanwhile, Syria’s conflict has spilled over into its neighbors in recent weeks. The army has exchanged cross-border fire with Turkey, a Lebanese intelligence chief whose investigations implicated Syrian officials was assassinated on Friday and a Jordanian soldier was killed near the border overnight.

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