Norwegian general to lead UN Syria mission

The United Nations on Friday will name Major General Robert Mood to head a ceasefire observer mission in Syria struggling to get monitors into the country, diplomats said.

UN member states have so far offered only 100 military officers for the unarmed force given the risky mission of checking a cessation of hostilities that has barely held in Syria since April 12. A total of 300 observers has been proposed, accompanied by about 90 civilian support staff and experts.

But Syria has blocked one proposed monitor and threatened to refuse any who come from a Western-Arab coalition of countries that has backed opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Mood is expected to be in Damascus as early as this weekend. Diplomats said no objections were expected before a formal announcement on Friday after UN leader Ban Ki-moon told the UN Security Council he plans to name Mood.

The Norwegian general attended a Security Council meeting on Tuesday when UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said that Assad's forces had still not ended violence that has killed over 9,000 people over the past 13 months.

The general has not spoken publicly in New York but highlighted the "abyss of suspicion and violence between the Syrian regime and the opposition" in a recent interview with the Norwegian news agency NTB.

On top of the dangers in Syria, Mood also faces the challenge of helping the UN peacekeeping department get monitors into the country.

Security Council powers on Tuesday called on UN peacekeeping chiefs to speed up the deployment after being told that it would take a month to get a third of the officers in place.

France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the monitors should be there "within a fortnight, not in three months."

A meeting of troop contributing countries produced only 100 pledges, diplomats said. Finland offered at least seven observers, but it would still have to get formal government approval before they could leave.

The peacekeeping department is "working rapidly and efficiently to ensure the deployment by the quickest possible means, said deputy UN spokesperson Eduardo del Buey.

The UN has to persuade countries to make monitors available, give training in human rights and other topics and then tackle the Syrian bureaucracy, officials said.

Assad's government has already blocked one potential observer based in Damascus with the UN Truce Supervision Organization, which acts as an intermediary between Arab states and Israel.

"That may have been the problem - they know him and for some reason don't like him," said one diplomat.

According to UN officials, Syria is also refusing to accept monitors from the Friends of Syria group, which includes the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Damascus calls the group the "Enemies of Syria."

But the current advanced mission in Syria is being led by a colonel from Morocco, which has attended the Friends' meetings.

Russia has agreed to lobby the Syrians to stop them from blocking observers, diplomats said.

Western nations have expressed strong doubts about the dangers and poor prospects for the observer mission. The United States, Britain and France have all said UN sanctions will have to be considered if violence does not halt.

"Everything we have seen suggests that the Syrians are wanting to play for time and they don't have any real intention to start a political process and transition. But we need to call their bluff and test that out," a senior UN diplomat said.

Annan expressed strong concern about reports that Syrian forces have killed people who met with UN monitors. But diplomats stressed that shelling has stopped in Homs since UN observers have been permanently based there.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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