UN chief to Syria’s President: Stop killing your people
DAMASCUS - UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Sunday urged Syria's Bashar al-Assad to stop killing his own people, saying the path of repression was a "dead end," as Damascus announced a general amnesty for crimes committed during the unrest.
"Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end," Ban said in a keynote address at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world.
"The winds of change will not cease to blow. The flame ignited in Tunisia will not be dimmed," he added.
Ban's comments came as the Syrian president announced a general amnesty for crimes committed during the popular unrest that has rocked the country over the past 10 months.
"President Assad issued a decree stipulating a general amnesty for crimes committed during the events between March 15, 2011 and January 15, 2012," the official SANA news agency reported, without elaborating.
Syria's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, which the United Nations estimates has killed more than 5,000 people, has brought Damascus under increasing pressure from its former allies.
The government says far fewer have been killed while accusing "armed terrorist gangs" backed by foreign powers of being responsible for the violence.
The emir of Qatar said in an interview with US network CBS, to be broadcast on Sunday, that he favoured dispatching Arab troops to Syria to "stop the killing."
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani's interview with "60 Minutes" is the first public call by an Arab leader for an Arab military presence in Syria.
The comments by the emir, whose wealthy nation once enjoyed cordial ties with Damascus, come with the Arab League set to review the work of its Syria monitoring mission later this month, amid increasing concern about its failure to stem the killing.
"There is an overall reassessment of the work of the observer mission which we will discuss at the next ministerial meeting to be held in Cairo on Saturday, January 21," League chief Nabil al-Arabi said in Oman.
"There has been partial progress until now but there is daily bloodshed in Syria that the League aims to end," he added.
Qatar was instrumental in getting the Arab League observers into Syria late last month.
But Syrian opposition activists have expressed disappointment at the mission, with critics saying it has been out-maneuvered by the government in Damascus.
On the eve of Sunday's conference in Beirut, the UN secretary general met Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and discussed the "dangerous trajectory" of the crisis in Syria, according to Ban's spokesman.
"The secretary general said the dangerous trajectory of the crisis in Syria was a source of great concern," Martin Nesirky said in a statement.
Turkey shares a 910-kilometre (560-mile) border with its former ally, but has condemned the Damascus regime's crackdown on dissent and has given sanctuary to Syrian army defectors and refugees.
Meanwhile, rebel plans to form a high military council, headed by a top defector, to oversee military operations against the regime have boosted efforts to isolate Assad's government.
General Mustafa Ahmad al-Sheikh, the most senior commander to defect from the Syrian army, is due to announce the council's formation in Turkey, where he sought refuge 12 days ago, his media adviser said.
Sheikh, 54, was in charge of security in northern Syria before defecting. In a statement, he said he had deserted because he was sickened by the regime's ruthlessness and the killings.
"This council, headed by Sheikh, will oversee military operations in conjunction with the Free Syrian Army (FSA)," Fahad Almasri said.
"It will also help organise defections within the army and will be in contact with officers in the regular army to encourage large-scale rather than individual defections."
Formed from deserters from the regular army, the FSA says it has some 40,000 fighters.