UN peace envoy plans for Syrian peacekeeping force
Lakhdar Brahimi, the veteran Algerian diplomat who took over as joint United Nations and Arab League peace envoy last month, has spent recent weeks quietly sounding out which countries would be willing to contribute soldiers.
Given the volatility of the conflict and the growing presence of Islamists on the rebel side, it is thought British and American forces would be unlikely to take part because of their past involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
|Send in the mighty Uruguayans!|
Instead, Mr Brahimi is thought to be looking at more nations that currently contribute to Unifil, the 15,000 strong mission set up to police Israel's borders with Lebanon. They alone are thought to have the infrastructure and on-the-ground knowledge that any peacekeeping operation would require.
|Nope, not us. We gave at the office, and we know how much the UN appreciated everything we did...|
Countries contributing to Unifil include Ireland, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, one of which would be expected to play a leading role in the Syria peacekeeping force.
Yet the presence of any European on the ground in Syria - even from nations considered more "neutral" in the Arab world - would still represent a significant new Western military involvement in the Middle East. Experts fear they could be a magnet for attacks for both Islamists and regime loyalists.
|Let the French run this one. Everyone in the Levant loves the French...|
Details of Mr Brahimi's plans emerged as he arrived in Istanbul on Saturday for talks aimed at quelling rising tensions between Syria and Turkey.
|The experts are all wet. Why would anyone there attack the French?|
Since taking over as envoy, Mr Brahimi has deliberately sought to dampen expectations, warning that it might be "nearly impossible" for him to succeed. Yet he is due to visit Syria soon to try to persuade Damascus to call a ceasefire, and diplomatic sources say his office has been exploring the peacekeeping option in a "very serious" manner.
Already he is understood to have ruled out the use of African troops, who he believes would not be adequately resourced, and troops from neighbouring Arab states, most of which are seen as supporting the rebels.
"Brahimi has asked for the lists of troop contributing countries, and has already ruled out a number of countries, which essentially leaves European troops," a source said. "He is looking at all options and not putting all his eggs in the peacekeeping basket, but all information points to him exploring the peacekeeping option in a very serious manner."
|Perhaps Argentinians? As long as you paid them in dollars...|
Mr Brahimi is also understood to have much more effort to cultivate opposition groups than Mr Annan did, in the hope of eventually getting them to the negotiating table.
At present, though, that seems a distant prospect. Earlier this year, rebels refused to take part in a ceasefire, saying that they did not trust the President Bashar-al Assad's regime to honour it. And since then, they become much more equal players on the battlefield, whetting their appetite to push for all-out victory rather than a truce that might elements of the Assad regime intact. Any peacekeeping force would also require a mandate from the UN Security Council, two of whose permanent members, Russian and China, have so far backed President Assad.
On Saturday, the Turkish prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, accused the council of inaction over Syria, saying it was repeating mistakes that led to massacres in the Balkans conflict in the 1990s.
"How sad that the United Nations is as helpless today as it was 20 years ago, when it watched the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people in the Balkans, Bosnia and Srebrenica," Mr Erdogan said.
In a swipe at Russian and China, he added "If we wait for one or two of the permanent members ... then the future of Syria will be in danger."
|Not to mention Bangladesh, Burma, Biafra, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, El Salvador, Timor...|
|No, the future will be crystal clear...|
Posted by: Steve White