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Syria accepts Annan’s peace plan; China, Russia also on board

By Alice Fordham,  BEIRUT:  Syria’s government has accepted a United Nations plan to halt the bloody uprising engulfing the country and forge a political solution, U.N. special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan said Tuesday.

The announcement was made in Beijing, where Annan held meetings with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and said afterward that his plan had China’s full support. The U.N. Security Council endorsed the plan last week, and Annan said Russia — another strong ally of Syria’s — agreed to back it over the weekend.The proposal calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to work with Annan in an “inclusive, Syrian-led political process” to address the aspirations of the Syrian people.

It demands an end to the government’s violent crackdown on the opposition, who began as peaceful protesters but now have armed elements, and calls on both sides to halt violence and work through an unspecified U.N. mechanism to resolve differences.

Other demands include a daily two-hour cease-fire to facilitate humanitarian work, the release of prisoners and the granting of access to the country to journalists.

Annan submitted the plan during a visit to Damascus earlier this month . His spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said implementation of the proposal “will be key, not only for the Syrian people, who are caught in the middle of this tragedy, but also for the region and the international community as a whole.”

Assad’s government only partially implemented a previous Arab League-led plan to halt the violence, which has killed thousands of people.

Winning the backing of China and Russia could have helped persuade Assad to embrace the six-point plan. The two countries twice rejected proposals for U.N. sanctions against Syria, saying the resolutions were not balanced and did not condemn violence by the rebels.

“The Chinese government supports your mediation efforts in this capacity of special envoy,” Wen told Annan on Tuesday, according to a transcript provided to journalists.

Annan replied: “I am grateful for the confidence and for the trust you’ve exhibited towards me, but I cannot do this job alone. I need help, I need support and I need support and advice from countries like yours, and that’s why I am here.

“I am sure that together we can make a difference.”

A Paris-based member of the opposition Syrian National Council said it welcomed the Syrian government’s decision, the Associated Press reported. “We hope that we can move toward a peace process,” Bassma Kodmani said by telephone to the wire service.

According to a U.N. statement, Annan had received a formal response to his proposal from Syria on Monday, and had been considering it before responding.

There is a U.N. team already in place in Damascus researching ways of implementing the six points. Annan has written to Assad asking him to begin fulfilling its commitments immediately, said his spokesman, according to Reuters.

In Syria, meanwhile, new clashes were reported Tuesday that threatened to spill over the Lebanese border. Heavy fighting was clearly audible close to the border al-Qaa area in the north of Lebanon. Lebanese soldiers prevented reporters from approaching the area.

According to a Lebanese army spokesman, the clashes took place on the Syrian side of the border, between Syrian troops and armed rebels known as the Free Syrian Army. One mortar shell fell on the Lebanese side of the border; no casualties were immediately reported.

Lebanese soldiers were patrolling to prevent supporters of the rebels from joining in the fighting. Lebanon, a complex mix of sects and political sympathies, has been somewhat polarized by the uprising in Syria, with many Sunni Muslims supporting the largely Sunni opposition movement.

Published Date: Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 | 08:15 PM

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