Syria mostly calm after UN deadline,govt security up

A fragile cease-fire brokered by the UN took hold in Syria

Written by Associated Press | Beirut | Published: April 13, 2012 1:18:05 am

A fragile cease-fire brokered by the UN took hold in Syria on Thursday,with regime forces apparently halting widespread attacks on the opposition. But scattered violence was reported and the government defied demands to pull troops back to barracks,drawing criticism from international envoy Kofi Annan.

Annan told the UN Security Council that he was “encouraged” that the truce appeared to be holding,but warned that the Syrian regime has failed to implement key demands such as withdrawing troops and heavy weapons from cities.

He urged the 15-nation Council to demand that President Bashar Assad’s government keep its promises,and called for the speedy deployment of an observer mission,according to UN diplomats.

In the hours after the 6 am deadline,at least four civilians were reported killed — three by sniper fire — and the state-run news agency said “terrorist groups’’ launched a roadside bomb that killed a soldier. But there was no sign of the heavy shelling,rocket attacks and sniper fire that have become routine.

If the truce holds,it would be the first time the regime has observed an internationally brokered cease-fire since Assad’s regime launched a brutal crackdown 13 months ago on mass protests calling for his ouster.

However,troops intensified searches at checkpoints,tightening controls ahead of possible large-scale protests Friday,called by the opposition and meant to test the regime’s commitment.

There was deep skepticism that the regime would halt its fire for long,given that Assad has broken promises in the past. Also,the regime said Wednesday,that it reserves the right to respond to aggression,potentially a pretext for breaking the truce.

Annan’s plan calls for the deployment of international observers and talks on a political transition once a truce is in place. The initiative has broad international support,including from Assad allies Russia,China and Iran,and is widely seen as the last chance for diplomacy to end the violence.

Ban says onus on regime

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the onus was on President Bashar Assad’s regime to keep the peace.

“As of this moment,the situation looks calmer,” he told reporters in Geneva. But the cease-fire is “very fragile” and a single gunshot could derail the process,he added.

Ban will now ask the UN Security Council for speedy deployment of an observer mission,said special envoy Kofi Annan,who brokered the truce.

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