Middle East

UN envoy says Assad clings to 'old' regime

Lakhdar Brahimi, center, joint special representative for Syria, arrives at closed door consultations regarding the situation in Syria at the Security Council at United Nations headquarters Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/David Karp)

UNITED NATIONS: UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Monday he sees no quick end to the Syrian war where president Bashar al-Assad is clinging to the "old" regime.

Brahimi gave the divided UN Security Council a grim picture of the worsening conflict with a government using "medieval" torture on people in secret detention centers and ignoring all calls for change.

Syria will be one of the dominant themes of the UN General Assembly which starts on Tuesday with US President Barack Obama expected to lead renewed international condemnation of Assad.

But despite Brahimi's warnings and the pleas of Western leaders, envoys see little hope of piercing Russian and Chinese resistance to international pressure on the Syrian government.

"There is no prospect for today or tomorrow to move forward," Brahimi told reporters after briefing the 15-nation Security Council on his recent talks with Assad.

Brahimi said he had told Assad and others in Syria that there had to be "change" but acknowledged that for the moment there was a "stalemate" and he still has no full peace plan to offer.

"There is no disagreement anywhere that the situation in Syria is extremely bad and getting worse, that it is a threat to the region and a threat to peace and security in the world," Brahimi said outside the council.

Inside the closed council meeting, he told UN envoys that "there is no safe place for those who are caught in violence, which is now engulfing almost the entire country," according to a text of his speech obtained by AFP.

"The sad truth is that a Syrian citizen, man, woman or teenager, does not need to do much these days to be picked up by one of the many security agencies," he said.

He said most observers estimated that more than 30,000 people have been detained in jail "or in one of the much feared 'secret' detention centers where maltreatment and medieval forms of torture are so common."

Brahimi said he had been told that more than 1,000 people had died under "severe torture."

He outlined the humanitarian struggle to help at least 1.5 million people who have fled their homes and at 280,000 who are in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

There are growing food shortages because the harvest has been devastated by the conflict, medical supplies are barely available and people are scared to go to hospitals because of the presence of "security agents."

"Millions of lives have already been shattered," he added.

But Brahimi said that for Assad, "the aim is still to keep or return to the old Syria, even if much is said about dialogue and reform." Assad and his father have ruled Syria for more than 40 years.

"Popular demand for change, not reforms, is hardly recognized by the government. The crisis is seen mainly as a foreign conspiracy engineered from abroad."

He said there are foreign fighters in Syria, but while the government puts the figure at 5,000, other estimates were of less than 2,000.

Brahimi said the Syrian opposition had to unite to form a negotiating platform and the Security Council had to unite behind his mediation efforts.

Brahimi's predecessor, Kofi Annan, had appealed for the Security Council to impose sanctions in the Syria case, but Russia and China used their veto three times on UN resolutions which had spoken of possible sanctions.

But the envoy said he would persevere.

"I think that we will find an opening in the not too distant future. I refuse to believe that reasonable people do not see that you cannot go backward, that you cannot go back to the Syria of the past," he told reporters after the briefing.

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after meeting Brahimi: "The situation in Syria is grave. We need to do everything we can to end the violence and the killing of so many innocent people."

Westerwelle welcomed the "clear position" of Arab leaders condemning the conflict, saying he hoped this would be "a wake up call to those who still hesitate to denounce the violence caused by the regime in Syria."





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