On Tuesday 13 May the Secretary-General of the United Nation, Ban Ki-moon, announced that the Special Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, will step down by the end of May. Brahimi expressed his regret for his inability to forge an international response to the violence in Syria. The 80-year-old Brahimi threatened to resign almost from the start of his mission in 2012. He succeeded Kofi Annan, who quit after six months and slammed the UN Security Council for failing to unite behind his efforts.
The Algerian veteran mediator Brahimi said “It’s not very pleasant for me. It’s very sad that I leave this position and leave Syria behind in such a bad state”. He added that “everybody who has responsibility and an influence in the situation has to remember that the question is how many more dead? How much more destruction is there going to be before Syria becomes again the Syria we have known?” Ban Ki-moon praised Brahimi for his efforts, Brahimi “faced 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”, “He has persevered with great patience and skill.”
Ban Ki-moon now has to find a replacement for Brahimi. He said “At this time, I have to think who should be the right person and at what time”. Diplomatic sources have named several possible candidates, including former Tunisian Foreign Minster Kamel Morjane and the Spanish former Secretary-General of the NATO and EU Security Chief, Javier Solana. A new envoy for Syria has to be appointed before 31 May, the day Brahimi steps down.
Three years of civil war
After three years of fighting, there is still no end in sight in the Syrian civil war. The conflict started in 2011 when Arab Spring inspired peaceful protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in the city of Deraa turned violent. The regime that has ruled Syria for decades is fighting for its survival while opposition forces united to overthrow the Assad regime. Under the guidance of Brahimi, two rounds of peace talks were organized in the Swiss town of Geneva, but to no avail. Also, the UN Security Council stands divided on how to tackle the civil war, with Russia and China blocking any resolute action against the regime.
Observers say that since the start of the violence over 150,000 people lost their lives. Another 2.5 million people fled the country, whilst another 9 million people have been driven from their homes. In all, 3.5 million people have no excess to essential goods and services. The fighting between the different opposition groups and the Syrian regime seemed to have reached a stalemate, but observers say that government forces have gained the upper-hand.
On 7 May opposition forces in the city of Holms agreed to hand over the city to the control of the regime. The deal, brokered by Iran, allowed the last remaining opposition forces in Homs to leave unharmed in exchange for control over the city and the return of some hostages. The fall of the city has been a heavy symbolic blow in the fight against the regime. Homs, Syria’s third largest city, had been dubbed the ‘Capital of the Revolution’ and its inhabitants massively supported the uprising against President Assad.
Meanwhile, on 13 May the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said government forces may have used chlorine gas in up to 14 attacks. He said “We have indications that show us that, in the past recent weeks again, chemical weapons in a smaller scale have been used, in particular chlorine”. He said the Assad regime had handed over 92 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile to be destroyed but that the regime is hiding some weapons. Also, the government still has the capability to produce new chemical weapons. President Assad promised to hand over and destroy its entire chemical weapons stockpile.
Jen Psaki, spokesmen for the US State Department, said the US was still committed to the destruction of Syria’s Chemical weapons stockpile. “Clearly the removal of 92 percent of declared chemical weapons in Syria is a step that we think is an important step forward, and one that we continue to stand by as the right step and the right process.” Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama stated his support for Syrian Opposition Coalition President Ahmad Jarba. A White House statement read: “President Obama welcomed the coalition’s leadership and constructive approach to dialogue, and encouraged the coalition to further its vision for an inclusive government that represents all of the people of Syria”.
Despite the war, the Assad-regime appears to be determined to go ahead with the presidential elections on 3 June. The election law does not allow Syrian opposition candidates to stand for office and require candidates to have lived in Syria for the last decade. Critics believe that President Bashar al-Assad will easily be elected for a new seven-year term, the opposition dismisses the election as a farce.
Sources: Al Arabiya I, Al Arabiya II, Al Jazeera I, Al Jazeera II, Reuters I, Reuters II, The economist, The Guardian.
Author: Koen Migchelbrink