3/02/2012

UN Chief Demands Access to Battered Syrian District

VOA

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on Syria to give humanitarian workers immediate access to people who desperately need aid in its besieged cities.
He said Friday the U.N. continues to receive “grisly” reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture. His comments came after the International Committee of the Red Cross said Syrian authorities have blocked its workers from delivering medical supplies and humanitarian aid to the Baba Amr neighborhood in the battered city of Homs.
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said a convoy of seven trucks carrying aid were not allowed to enter Baba Amr where rebels and citizens have been under siege by government forces for nearly a month. The ICRC says the government initially gave them permission on Thursday to enter the neighborhood.
Kellenberger said it is “unacceptable” that Baba Amr residents have not received any help. He confirmed the aid workers from the ICRC and its sister organization in Syria will stay in Homs overnight in hopes of the entering Baba Amr in the “very near future.”
Mr. Ban also urged the Syrian government to allow U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos to visit the embattled areas.
After a relentless government assault, rebels say an increasingly dire humanitarian situation led to the “tactical retreat” of opposition forces on Thursday. Activists say the city's water supply has been cut off and that food, medicine and electricity are scarce.
The ICRC says the bodies of American-born journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were handed over to the humanitarian group and are being transported to Damascus. Colvin and Ochlik were killed last week when government shelling struck a makeshift media center in Baba Amr.
Two other French journalists injured in the attack and stuck in Baba Amr for days arrived in France on Friday and were welcomed home by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Freelance reporter Edith Bouvier and her photographer William Daniels were evacuated from Homs on Thursday and smuggled across the border into Lebanon.
The United Nations' human rights office announced Friday it has received unconfirmed reports that 17 executions took place in Baba Amr on Thursday.
A spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the global body is appealing to Syrian authorities and the opposition to prevent unlawful reprisals, torture and arbitrary detentions following this “particularly grizzly set of summary executions.”
Mr. Sarkozy announced Friday that France will close its embassy in Syria following the lead of the United States and Britain who have already shut down their diplomatic operations in Damascus.
During a summit of European leaders in Brussels, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron called for the Syrian government to be held accountable for crimes committed during its assault. He said no matter how long it takes, there will be a “day of reckoning” for what he called a “dreadful regime.”
In comments Friday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin refused to speculate on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's leadership, but said reforms in Syria were long overdue.
Europeans leaders are speaking out a day after the U.N. Security Council took its first action on the Syrian crisis.
After several failed attempts to unite behind a resolution on Syria, the Council unanimously approved a statement “deploring” what it called the “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” in areas affected by violence.
Council members Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions that would have condemned the Syrian government for its deadly crackdown on the revolt.
The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed since the revolt began last March. Syrian officials blame the uprising on foreign-backed armed “terrorists” who, the government says, have killed more than 2,000 security personnel.