Last Updated: Thu Nov 10, 2011 09:55 am (KSA) 06:55 am (GMT)

Risk of Libya-style civil war increasing in Syria as soldiers defecting in increasing numbers, U.N. says

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, told the 15-nation Security Council she was “concerned that the killing of civilians has not stopped” in Syria. (Reuters)
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, told the 15-nation Security Council she was “concerned that the killing of civilians has not stopped” in Syria. (Reuters)

An increasing number of Syrian soldiers are defecting to the opposition, raising the risk of a Libyan-style civil war in Syria, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Wednesday.

“Where basic human rights are trampled and peaceful demands for change met by brutal violence, people are eventually compelled to have recourse to rebellion against tyranny and oppression,” Pillay told the U.N. Security Council.

“It happened in Libya, it may happen in Syria,” she said during a debate on protecting civilians in armed conflict. “More and more soldiers refuse to become complicit in international crimes and are changing sides. There is a serious risk of Syria descending into armed struggle.”

Illustrating Pillay’s point Syrian activists said that an armored government force stormed an area northwest of the city of Hama on Wednesday in pursuit of army defectors challenging President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

Pillay reiterated U.N. estimates that “well over 3,500” people have been killed in Syria since anti-government demonstrations began in March.

“Tens of thousands of people, including doctors, nurses and wounded patients, have been arbitrarily arrested and many remain detained incommunicado, placing them at serious risk of torture,” she said.

Syria agreed to an Arab League plan on Nov. 2, pledging to pull its military from restive cities, set political prisoners free and start talks with the opposition, which wants to remove Assad and introduce more democratic freedoms.

Pillay told the 15-nation Security Council she was “concerned that the killing of civilians has not stopped.” She urged Damascus to allow a human rights monitoring mission to help ensure that Syria complies with the Arab League agreement.

Last month Russia and China joined forces to veto a European-drafted Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Syrian government’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and threatened possible sanctions.

U.S. and European diplomats have repeatedly said that they are ready to submit a new draft resolution along similar lines as soon as Russia and China change their positions. But so far Moscow and Beijing remain adamantly opposed to the idea, Western diplomats say.

Meanwhile a top U.S. diplomat told lawmakers that Arab leaders are privately telling the United States that they have offered Assad “safe haven” in a bid to convince him to step down.

“Almost all the Arab leaders say the same thing: Assad’s rule is coming to an end. Change in Syria is now inevitable,” Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Some Arab leaders already have begun to offer Assad safe-haven in an effort to encourage him to leave peaceably and quickly,” Feltman said at a hearing on U.S. policy towards the bloody unrest in Syria.

A human rights group said Wednesday that security forces killed 26 civilians in Syria, which just last week signed up to an Arab League peace plan which called for an end to violence.

Under the plan, Damascus would also release those detained for protesting, and withdraw all Syrian forces from towns and cities. It says it has already released more than 500.

But since signing the Arab roadmap, up to Tuesday according to the United Nations, Syrian forces have killed another 60 people.

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