Russia rebukes Arab League over Syria

Foreign minister criticises decision to suspend observer mission, saying situation demands more monitors instead.

    Russia has strongly criticised the Arab League decision to halt its observer mission in Syria amid escalating violence, saying the situation demands additional deployment of monitors and not their suspension.

    "We would like to know why they are treating such a useful instrument in this way," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a visit to Brunei on Sunday.

    "I would support an increased number of observers," Lavrov said."We are surprised that after a decision was taken on prolonging the observers' mission for another month, some countries, particularly Persian Gulf countries, recalled their observers from the mission."

    The Arab League suspended its observer mission on Saturday as the bloodshed in a crackdown on anti-government protests spiked. Several hundred died in the past four days alone.

    Lavrov said that he did not back those Western countries that said the mission was pointless and that it was impossible to hold dialogue with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

    "I think these are very irresponsible statements because trying to sabotage a chance to calm the situation is absolutely unforgivable," he said.

    Russia had earlier refused to support an Arab League plan that called on Assad to step down. 

    Syrian resentment

    Syria also voiced its dismay and surprise over the Arab League decision to halt its observer mission.

    "Syria regrets and is surprised at the Arab decision to stop the work of its monitoring mission after it asked for a one- month extension of its work," Syria Television reported in an urgent news flash on Saturday.

    "This will have a negative impact and put pressure on [Security Council] deliberations with the aim of calling for foreign intervention and encouraging armed groups to increase violence," it said.

    Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, announced the suspension of the mission in a statement on Saturday, citing worsening violence as the prime reason.

    Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught talks from the Turkish border 

    "It has been decided to immediately stop the work of the Arab League's mission to Syria pending presentation of the issue to the league's council," he said.

    The bloc said around 100 observers would remain in the country but would not undertake new missions.

    The mission was set up in December to monitor Damascus' compliance with the Arab League plan to end a bloody crackdown by Assad's government. 

    The bloc extended the 165-member mission after its first month, but Gulf Arab states later withdrew their monitors.

    The mission has been widely criticised by the Syrian opposition for failing to end the government's crackdown on protests.

    On Sunday, reports said at least 20 more people, including a child and two defecting soldiers, had been killed in continuing violence.

    Kurd conference

    Meanwhile, more than 200 Syrian Kurds from 25 countries are taking part in a two-day conference in the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital of Irbil, with their leaders saying they would want a referendum after the eventual fall of Assad to decide on their people's future as part of Syria.

    "In Syria, we will not obtain the same thing as the Iraqi Kurds because the circumstances are different," Hamid Darwish, head of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party of Syria, said.

    "We wants our national rights to be written into the constitution and approved by our Arab brothers," he said.

    Abdul-Hakim Bashar, who leads the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria, said his people had "the right to self-determination within the framework of the unity of Syria and based on the principle of decentralisation".

    Kurds account for about nine per cent of Syria's population. They have several rival parties, all of which are officially banned, seeking political and administrative rights for their community.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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