US: Syria not pulling out forces according to plan

Published April 7, 2012 8:18AM (EDT)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian government appears to have pulled back some of its forces from towns and cities ahead of a U.N.-brokered cease fire next week but in other places has kept in place or simply shifted around troops and armored vehicles, the U.S. ambassador to the country says.

Robert Ford said he was basing his information on satellite images before and after the alleged pullouts which were posted on the U.S. Embassy Facebook page.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has accepted a cease-fire deadline brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan, which calls for his forces to pull out of towns and cities by Tuesday and for both government and rebels to lay down their arms by 6 a.m. local time Thursday.

But while some troops were redeployed, others were kept near rebel-occupied towns, while arrests, sweeps, and the artillery bombardment of opposition strongholds continued, Ford's statement said.

"This is not the reduction in offensive Syrian government security operations that all agree must be the first step for the Annan initiative to succeed," the late Friday statement said.

Western leaders along with the Syrian opposition have cast doubt on Assad's intentions, suggesting he is playing for time and is not serious about the plan, which aims to pave the way for talks between the regime and the opposition on a political solution.

Syria denies that the revolt is a popular uprising at all, saying instead that it is facing a foreign conspiracy by armed gangs and terrorists who want to destroy the country.

The Syrian government says it has begun to withdraw forces ahead of the cease-fire but activists deny this and suggest Assad is rushing to stamp out as much of the year-old uprising as he can before next week's deadline.

According to the satellite images, Ford said there were some areas such as Dael in the southern province of Daraa, and Taftanaz in the northern Idlib province, where some forces were removed following several days of assaults against the towns.

In Taftanaz, the Syrian government simply moved some armored vehicles out and into the nearby town of Zirdana.

"In some other places, such as Homs and Zabadani, the Syrian government kept artillery units near residential areas where they could again fire upon them," Ford said. The central city of Homs has been a focal point of the uprising and Zabadani is a rebel stronghold west of Damascus on the Syrian border.

Ford urged Assad to allow in a U.N. monitoring force and to have full access throughout Syria to investigate the regime's compliance.

"The regime and the Syrian people should know that we are watching. The regime cannot hide the truth," he said.

On Friday, a small U.N. advance team headed by a Norwegian major general, Robert Mood, met with Syria's deputy foreign minister to discuss the cease-fire plans. Mood is to set up a U.N. monitoring force with 200 to 250 members if the peace plan succeeds.

The U.N. estimates that a year of violence has claimed more than 9,000 lives. In letters sent to the U.N. Friday, the Syrian government said 2,088 members of the military and 478 policemen were killed. The regime has rarely acknowledged deaths of protesters.

By Salon Staff

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