3:49am

Wed April 25, 2012
Middle East

Despite Cease-Fire, Syrians Are Still Dying

Originally published on Wed April 25, 2012 7:10 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

During almost two weeks since a cease-fire took effect in Syria, hundreds of people have been killed. The killing continues despite the agreement by Syria's government and rebels, and despite the presence of United Nations monitors. NPR's Kelly McEvers is tracking this situation from Beirut.

Hi, Kelly.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: What's gone wrong?

MCEVERS: Well, the agreement was supposed to be that the Syrian government troops would pull all of its, you know, heavy weapons and soldiers out of the cities and towns of Syria. They agreed to it. They told the U.N. that they were going to do it. And basically, in most cities and towns, they haven't done it.

Yesterday, a U.N. official said that not only do we have reports from eyewitnesses inside Syria, but there's also satellite imagery that the tanks - the armored personnel carriers have not left the cities. And we also know - what human rights groups and witnesses are telling us is that basically, hundreds of people have died since this so-called cease-fire has gone into place. So this is clear that the government is not complying, keeping up its end of the bargain.

Rebels aren't keeping up their end, either. They had said that once the government pulled its troops out, that they would stop attacks. What we've seen now is sort of a trend of rebel assassinations of military officers, intelligence officers - just three killed yesterday - and the rebels claiming responsibility. So you can say that this so-called cease-fire really just is nonexistent at this point.

INSKEEP: Now, with that said, there are U.N. observers that go into different parts of the country; things seem to be quiet when they get there.

MCEVERS: That's what happens. They go to a place, and things quiet down. It seems like the tanks kind of pull back a few blocks or a few miles, and everything calms down. But what we heard yesterday in the city of Hama was something, actually, very disturbing.

The U.N. observers, they went in; they talked to people. People said look, government troops and government-backed thugs are continuing the killing. And then once the monitors left, the troops came back in - as if in punishment for speaking to the monitors in the first place. So, in fact, some people told us that they were threatened beforehand - don't you dare talk to those monitors, or we'll come after you. And that's what appears to have happened.

We've got 34 names of people who were killed in shelling by government troops, and then sort of house-to-house killing by some of these government-backed thugs. So the next time the monitors went back to Hama, I think people were really reluctant to talk to them again.

INSKEEP: So it's becoming apparent, perhaps even to the U.N. observers themselves, that there's no cease-fire for them to observe here.

MCEVERS: Right. And this puts these observers in a really interesting position. I mean, usually when you think of U.N. peacekeepers, they're there to keep a peace that's already been agreed upon. And they come in, and it's usually two states, or two groups, that have said look, we've agreed to a truce here.

This is obviously not the case in Syria, so what are these monitors doing? What are these observers there for? In some sense, they're there to create the peace.

What we saw in the city of Homs, which has been one of the most violent places throughout this conflict more than a year now, is that now that two U.N. observers have stationed themselves there sort of indefinitely, the violence has dropped considerably. So all of a sudden, these monitors, you know, instead of - again - sort of watching something happen or sort of ensuring that something is happening, they're making it happen.

INSKEEP: Is there something left for the United Nations to do that the U.N.'s member nations, the Security Council, can actually agree on, to do next?

MCEVERS: This is the million-dollar question in this whole thing. It's sort of, what's the "or else" here? You know, what does the United Nations say to the Syrian government? You've got to comply. You've got to knuckle down here and pull these troops out, and stop killing your own people - or else.

There's some talk now that the United States is considering a so-called plan B; that that may or may not include some kind of safe zone inside Syria that would require a military presence to protect people inside the safe zone. But huge questions remain about that. Would the entire Security Council back that, and what kind of military presence would be required to do it? I think those are a lot of questions that haven't been answered yet.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelly McEvers in Beirut. Kelly, thanks very much.

MCEVERS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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