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Syria's peace monitors 'being ignored'

Syrian opposition activists have called for the removal of the head of the Arab League monitoring team, just two days after the observers started their mission to gauge if the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was complying with a peace plan which it signed.

Syrian forces opened fire again yesterday, killing more than 30 people, despite the presence of the 60 monitors who spread out between several of the flashpoint cities in the nine-month uprising against the al-Assad government.

As monitors arrived in the Damascus suburb of Douma, troops opened fire, killing 13 people, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees, an opposition group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said people were killed when soldiers shot at protesters gathering near the Grand Mosque in Douma as the observers were arriving at city hall.

More deaths were reported in Hama, Homs and Idlib, despite the presence of the observers in all those cities.

Opponents of the Syrian regime say the arrival of the Arab League team led by General Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan has done nothing to quell the violence. They say President Bashar Assad's regime is trying to buy time and thwart more international condemnation and sanctions.

General Dabi was head of military intelligence then external security in the regime of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, now under an international arrest warrant on charges of committing genocide in Darfur.

Omar Idilbi, an activist with the Local Co-ordination Committees, said Dabi was a "senior officer with an oppressive regime that is known to repress opposition". Haytham Manna, a Paris-based dissident, also urged the Arab League to replace General al-Dabi or reduce his authority.

Amnesty International said under al-Dabi's command, military intelligence in the early 1990s "was responsible for the arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, and torture or other ill-treatment of numerous people in Sudan".

"This mission has absolutely no mandate, no authority, no teeth," said Ausama Monajed, a member of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle demanded "unhindered access" for the observers to all key points in Syria.

The monitors are supposed to ensure the regime is complying with a plan to end its crackdown. The plan, which Syria agreed to on December 19, demands the regime remove its security forces and heavy weapons from cities, start talks, allow in human rights workers and journalists and calls for the release of political prisoners.

Belfast Telegraph


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