28 May 2012, 22:38
Annan in Syria with message for 'everyone with a gun'
LONDON. May 28. KAZINFORM International envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Syria on Monday amid growing fury over a gruesome massacre that killed 108 people in one town.
He vowed "serious" discussions with President Bashar al-Assad and said he had a message for "everyone with a gun": to halt the violence.
Rebel leaders have said Annan's six-point plan is already "dead" following the killings in Houla, a suburb of the anti-government bastion of Homs. U.N. monitors in Syria said 49 children were among those slaughtered there Friday, CNN reports.
Al-Assad's regime insists it was not behind the massacre and blames terrorist groups. Throughout the uprising against the government, Syria has blamed violence on "armed terrorist groups."
But throughout Syria, people pointed fingers at the government. One man who helped prepare the bodies of children -- including a baby -- for burial asked a U.N. observer, "Why are they treating us like animals?"
Annan, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy, will meet with al-Assad and senior officials, as well as representatives of the opposition and civil society. He will review the work of the U.N. monitoring mission in the country as well.
"I have come to Syria at a critical moment in this crisis," Annan said, according to his spokesman. "I am personally shocked and horrified by the tragic incident in Houla two days ago, which took so many innocent lives, children, women and men. This was an appalling crime, and the Security Council has rightly condemned it."
He said Syrian citizens "are paying the highest price in this conflict," which "must end now."
"I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process. And this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone with a gun."
Opposition leaders say the massacre is the latest in Syria's brutal crackdown against protesters.
But Syrian U.N. representative Bashar al-Jaafari called the deaths "an appalling, horrific unjustified and unjustifiable crime" and insisted Monday that the Syrian government will work to find the people behind them. He called on the U.N. Security Council to "convene to define those who arm, host, harbor and encourage the terrorist groups to continue their violence in Syria and bring them to justice," according to state-run news agency SANA.
He railed against "member states" of the Security Council who are helping the opposition. "Those who are very interested in halting violence and making the comprehensive national dialogue in Syria a success should stop interfering in our internal affairs and should stop arming, hosting, funding and protecting the armed terrorist groups in my country,"
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has expressed outrage about the massacre in Houla, was in Russia on Monday, hoping to push Russian officials to pressure the Syrian regime to abide by Annan's peace plan.
He met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. But after the meeting, there was no clear sign that international action would ratchet up.
"It sounds very noble to say Russia is supporting the Syrian government, and when it stops supporting the Syrian government, everything will be fine," Lavrov told reporters.
But in reality, he said, "We do not support the Syrian government. We are supporting the Kofi Annan plan that addresses both the Syrian government and the armed opposition. ... We have to be objective."
The U.N. Security Council's attempts to formally condemn the Syrian regime have been repeatedly blocked by China and Russia, which sells arms to the Syrian regime.
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WASHINGTON. KAZINFORM - China issued the first-ever group of visas with ten-year validity to U.S. citizens here on Wednesday, implementing a new agreement that is expected to boost exchange between the two countries.