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Brahimi quits as U.N.-Arab League Syria envoy, fears more deaths

People walk on rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists say was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at al-Musayfra in Daraa province May 13, 2014. (REUTERS/Mohamed Fares)

UNITED NATIONS: Lakhdar Brahimi resigned Tuesday as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria after trying for nearly two years to overcome “almost impossible odds” to end a civil war that has claimed more than 150,000 lives, the U.N. chief announced Tuesday.

With Brahimi at his side, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blamed the failure of peace efforts on the warring parties, but especially the Syrian government. He also blamed the deeply divided Security Council and countries with influence on the fighting sides. Ban pledged to keep working to achieve peace and urged all involved to rethink what they could do to bring hope to the Syrian people.

Ban said Brahimi would step down on May 31. He said he would appoint a successor but gave no timetable.

Brahimi “faced almost impossible odds with the Syrian nation, Middle Eastern region and wider international community that have been hopelessly divided in their approaches to ending the conflict,” Ban said. “He has persevered with great patience and skill.”

Brahimi is the second U.N.-Arab envoy to quit after failing to achieve a breakthrough in the more than 3-year-old conflict between the regime of President Bashar Assad and rebels.

When Brahimi took over from his longtime friend, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, he said it would be “an extremely complicated and very, very difficult mission.”

He indicated Tuesday that he could see no end in the near future to the bloodshed.

“I’m sure that the crisis will end – but the question is how many more dead? How much more destruction?” Brahimi said. “It’s very sad that I leave this position and leave Syria behind in such a bad state.”

Brahimi managed to get government officials and opposition to two rounds of peace talks in Geneva, but they ended without an agreement.

He had been working behind the scenes to restart the Geneva negotiations but that effort was all but doomed when Assad’s government announced that elections would be held on June 3. The Geneva talks were intended to lead to a transitional government, and with new elections on the horizon both Brahimi and Ban have indicated it would be impossible to get the opposition to new negotiations.

“I regret that the parties, especially the government, have proven so reluctant to take advantage of that opportunity to end the country’s profound misery,” Ban said.

“I renew my appeal to them to show the wisdom and the sense of responsibility that could allow a way out of this nightmare.”

Brahimi, 80, is a former Algerian foreign minister and longtime U.N. diplomat and troubleshooter in hotspots from Afghanistan to Iraq. He said he was humbled by Ban’s “extremely generous words on this occasion which is not very pleasant for me.”

Ban said “Mr. Brahimi has long been recognized as one of the world’s most brilliant diplomats.”

“That his efforts have not achieved effective support from the United Nations body that is charged with upholding peace and security, and from countries with influence on the Syrian situation, is a failure of all of us,” Ban said.Deep divisions between Russia, which supports the Assad regime, and Western countries, which back the rebels, have prevented the Security Council from taking any effective action on Syria’s war.

Syria’s official media reported Brahimi’s resignation without comment.

Najib Ghadbian, the coalition’s representative to the U.N., said his group “appreciated” Brahimi’s efforts at forging a political settlement, adding that “we share his frustration with the Assad regime for not engaging constructively in the political process.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. deeply appreciated Brahimi’s service. “We look forward to the appointment of his successor,” he said.

The news came as Ahmad Jarba, the head of the Coalition, wrapped up an eight-day visit in Washington, where he held a series of meetings with White House officials during the day.

Jarba has made a series of public requests for the United States to provide the armed opposition with the means to neutralize the Syrian regime’s air power, such as sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry or a no-fly zone.

In Syria, battles between the Al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) raged in eastern parts of the country, against both Islamist and mainstream rebel groups, as well as the Kurdish PYD militia.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group, said some 6,000 people had been killed since the ad hoc campaign against ISIS militants began on Jan. 3. Just over 500 of the casualties were civilians caught in the cross-fire, it added.

The fighting has raged in a number of mostly remote areas of Deir al-Zor, Hassakeh and Raqqa provinces.

In Raqqa, the Observatory said militants from ISIS caught and executed the military commander of a leading local militia, along with his nephew, after clashes.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 14, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Lakhdar Brahimi resigned Tuesday as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria after trying for nearly two years to overcome "almost impossible odds" to end a civil war that has claimed more than 150,000 lives, the U.N. chief announced Tuesday.

With Brahimi at his side, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blamed the failure of peace efforts on the warring parties, but especially the Syrian government.

Ban pledged to keep working to achieve peace and urged all involved to rethink what they could do to bring hope to the Syrian people.

Ban said Brahimi would step down on May 31 .

Brahimi is the second U.N.-Arab envoy to quit after failing to achieve a breakthrough in the more than 3-year-old conflict between the regime of President Bashar Assad and rebels.

The Geneva talks were intended to lead to a transitional government, and with new elections on the horizon both Brahimi and Ban have indicated it would be impossible to get the opposition to new negotiations.


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