August 17, 2012 (TSR) – UN Secretary-general Ban Ki- moon on Friday announced the appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran Algerian diplomat, as the new joint special representative of the UN and the League of Arab States for Syria to replace Kofi Annan.
“The secretary-general of the United Nations is pleased, along with Secretary-general Nabil El Araby of the League of Arab States, to announce the appointment today of Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi as their Joint Special Representative for Syria,” said a statement released to the press here.
Brahimi, 78, was Algeria’s foreign minister from 1991 to 1993 and joined in 1994 the United Nations, where he served in a variety of high-profile posts until he retired in 2005.
“The violence and the suffering in Syria must come to an end,” said the statement. “The secretary-general appreciates Mr. Brahimi ‘s willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects the strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council.”
In the statement, the UN chief stressed that diplomacy to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria remains a top priority for the United Nations, adding that more fighting and militarization will only exacerbate the suffering and make more difficult the path to a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
Ban also reiterated his “deepest gratitude” to Annan for the former UN secretary-general’s selfless efforts and contributions to the search for peace in Syria.
UN builds up new liaison office in Damascus
For the United Nations presence in Syria, it’s kind of like “The king is dead. Long live the king,” because the UN military observer mission in the conflict-ridden nation ending Sunday midnight is to be replaced by a civilian liaison mission Monday morning.
While the world organization scrambled Thursday to facilitate a smooth swap-out, fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups seeking his ouster continued, with casualties rising and the humanitarian situation worsening.
It was estimated by UN officials that about 18,000 people have been killed in a year and a half of clashes.
Along with expiration of the UN Security Council mandate for the military observers’ presence in Syria, the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), comes the end of Kofi Annan’s role as the joint special envoy to Syria of the world organization and the Arab League.
Replacement of the former UN secretary-general, widely reported to be veteran UN trouble-shooter Lakhdar Brahimi, had not been officially announced late on Thursday. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon, traveling in Asia, had promised to announce the new joint special envoy as soon as possible.
Expiring UNSMIS was established by the council in April for only 90 days but its existence was extended another 30 days late last month.
At the time, the council indicated there would be no further renewals or extensions to the UNSMIS mandate unless it could be confirmed there was a reduction in violence by all sides and the use of heavy weapons ended so the mission could fulfill its duties.
The mission was downsized and was sticking close to its hotel headquarters because the level of violence in Syria was too high for it to effectively observe, UN officials have said.
“There was a general feeling that the conditions to continue UNSMIS were not fulfilled, but there was also a consensus about the need of keeping a UN presence in Damascus,” said French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud, who holds the presidency of the council this month. He spoke to reporters outside the council chamber.
“On the basis of this consensus, as president of the Security Council, I sent a letter to the secretary-General to tell him that we take note of his letter and in fact we agree with his proposal of creating a liaison office in Damascus,” Araud said Thursday.
Ban had acknowledged in his letter to the panel of 15 that conditions had not been reached to continue UNSMIS. He said the world organization could not cut off assistance to the Syrian people while helping to find an end to the crisis.
UN Assistant Secretary-General Edmond Mulet, deputy chief of the organization’s Department of Peace-Keeping Operations (DPKO), briefed the Council in a closed meeting Thursday on behalf of Ban then spoke with reporters outside the chamber.
“The mission will come to an end on midnight on Sunday,” Mulet said. “In the meantime, we’re working with our colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) to prepare the ground in Damascus to establish this liaison office.”
At present there are only 101 military observers, out of an initially authorized 300, and a civilian staff of 72 still in Syria, he said. “The last military observer will be leaving on Friday, the 24th, that is in one week time, because it has to be an orderly manner (of withdrawal). Of course during these days, they will not be performing any function or any duties.”
Mulet said, “in order not to have a gap in Damascus, we are already identifying some of the staff currently working there that would be willing to continue working in Damascus under this new office.”
He said it was not yet known what size the office would be, ” But it is going to be not too big, between 20 and 30 (people), something like that, but this has to be determined yet. Certainly not the size we have right now.”
However, Mulet explained while there no longer would be military observers, there would be military advisers.
“We don’t know yet how many of them will be working there, but there is going to be a small group advising the head of the liaison office in Damascus on military affairs,” he said, adding that there also would be a mine action service unit in the mission. ”
“We will have a civil affairs component, a human rights component coordinating with the UN country team on the ground on the humanitarian aspects,” Mulet said. “That is going to be an important role of this office.”
Even though UNSMIS was unable to fulfill its mandate to get the opposition and the government to stop fighting and to the bargaining table, it was able to help negotiate safe passage for some humanitarian aid.
The assistant secretary-general admitted to reporters no one has yet been chosen to head up the new office.
“This is something that would have to be discussed with the new joint special envoy,” he said, referring to Annan’s replacement. Not even the rank of the appointee had been decided on or terms of reference formulated.
However, Mulet said, “The Syrian government has given its agreement to have this liaison office established in Damascus. The concept of it and other details will be determined later on.”