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UN team says it has met all groups freely in Syria

Published By United Press International
UN Observers Visit the City of Homs in Syria
DAMASCUS, April 25 – A team of U.N. military observers said Wednesday it has met with all the parties in Syria's internal conflict and was able to travel freely throughout the country.

"We are meeting with all the parties [in the conflict]," U.N. team's spokesman Neeraj Singh told UPI here. "We are able to visit all the places."

Singh said the immediate task of the 11-member advance team of military observers – which landed in Damascus last week – is to build the groundwork so that a team of up to 300 observers could visit Syria in the coming days.

Singh said he hoped 19 more observers would join the advance team this week. The U.N. resolution that mandated the military team's mission set the number at 30.

"First we have separately established liaison with all the parties. That is important because when the [larger] mission comes in we need to have arrangements for them to go and meet people," Singh said. "We have to arrange their logistics."

The U.N. spokesman said the team was coordinating with the Syrian government to make arrangements for the 300-member mission.

Singh declined to comment if the team was able to verify the Western charges of massacres by the Syrian military in the Homs and Hama, about 160km north of the capital. He said two U.N. observers have been stationed at Hama since Tuesday, and two others have been in Homs since April 21.

"The military observers cannot share their reports because they are reporting to Mr. Kofi Annan," he said.

While declining to comment if the Syrian government had prevented the military observers from visiting certain parts of the country or meeting sections of the citizens, Singh said the media was "everywhere" wherever they went.

"Everyone has seen where we have gone and who we have met," Singh said.

The U.S. and European nations such as Britain and France have accused Syria President Bashar Assad's military of killing thousands in the 13-month conflict whose stated aim is to oust him from power. The U.N. says the dead number over 11,000.

Muslim nations such as Turkey, Syria's northern neighbor, and Qatar and United Arab Emirates, also Arabs like Syria, have also followed the Western line.

The Syrian government rejects the charge and says the Western countries seek to oust Assad from power because he has supported the Palestinians' cause in seeking freedom from illegal Israeli occupation of their lands.

The government claims Qatar and United Arab Emirates are against Assad because they want the long-banned Islamist conservative group, the Muslim Brotherhood, to seize power. It also says Turkey is opposing Syria's emergence as a leader of the Muslim world.

The U.N. team entered Syria as part of a truce former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan brokered with the Syrian government on April21.

Singh said the team could not begin its tour with the mandated number of 30 because some countries have longer procedures to send their observers. "The U.N. does not have a reserve force to send at will," he said.

Singh also declined to give the nationalities of the observers, saying the U.N. does not identify them by their nations as all represent the U.N. "The U.N. team will have a diverse representation, as always," he said.
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Race winner Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain (C) stands between second place finisher Christopher Froome of Great Britain (L) and third place finisher Vincenzo Nibali of Italy on the presentation podium following the final stage of the Tour de France in Paris on July 22, 2012. Wiggins of Great Britain became that country's first ever overall winner of the Tour de France. UPI/David Silpa