UN leader calls for rapid action on Syria

Ban Ki-moon has called for rapid, unified action by the Security Council on Syria.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon has called for rapid, unified action by the Security Council on Syria.

Mr Ban spoke after he arrived in Beijing as part of diplomatic efforts to get Russia and China to back a tougher response to president Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown.

Mr Ban’s trip comes ahead of a UN Security Council vote tomorrow on whether to allow sanctions and authorise actions to enforce them that could ultimately include the use of military force, which US and European officials are playing down as a possibility.

Russia and China have blocked previous efforts to sanction Syria.

The UN leader said: “The UN Security Council needs to be united and take action.

“I will do everything I can to resolve the Syrian crisis.”

Mr Ban will meet with Chinese president Hu Jintao on Wednesday amid heightened urgency in global diplomatic efforts on Syria since it was reported last week that dozens were killed in a regime assault on the Syrian village of Tremseh. UN observers said the attack appeared to target army defectors and activists.

Syria has denied UN claims that government forces used heavy weapons such as tanks, artillery and helicopters during the attack.

In response to the attack, Mr Ban warned UN members on Friday that inaction on Syria would be a “licence for further massacres”.

China has maintained that a diplomatic solution is the only way to end the crisis and resisted calls to pressure Assad to step down. The official People’s Daily newspaper ran a commentary strongly opposing force against Syria and calling for a political solution, a sign that China may again block the Western-backed resolution in the Security Council, where it is a veto-wielding member.

“Sovereign equality and noninterference in internal affairs (of other countries) is a red line that must not be crossed,” the commentary said.

“A political solution is the only way out of the Syrian problem.”

Mr Ban told Chinese web users that the international community has the responsibility to protect people when their government cannot or is unwilling to do so. “We cannot wait any more,” he said.

Syria’s once-peaceful protest movement has morphed into an armed insurgency seeking to topple the regime by force.

Anti-regime activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed. The government says it has lost more than 4,000 security officers. It does not provide numbers of civilian dead.

World powers remain deeply divided over who is responsible and how to stop it. The US and many Western nations have called on Mr Assad to leave power, while Russia, China and Iran have stood by the regime.

“I think Mr Ban’s message on the Syria problem will be very clear and quite urgent,” said Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at People’s University in Beijing.

“He hopes this time that China will give support to calls for Assad to step down. Or at least not to oppose them.”

International envoy Kofi Annan, who has been unsuccessful in brokering a political solution in Syria, met Russian leaders yesterday. The meeting came a day after the conflict crossed a symbolic threshold, with the international Red Cross formally declaring it a civil war, a status with implications for potential war crimes prosecutions.

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