Annan to tour Syrian refugee camps in Turkey; one killed in gunfire on border town

Around 25,000 Syrian refugees are currently housed in camps in Turkey’s three provinces bordering Syria. (Reuters)

The international mediator for Syria, Kofi Annan, was due in Turkey Tuesday for a visit to Syrian refugee camps near the border, a Turkish diplomatic source said Monday.

“The visit will only last a few hours, ahead of Annan’s trip to Iran,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. The former U.N. chief is expected in Tehran on Wednesday, according to AFP.

Meanwhile, shootings from the Syrian side of the border into Turkey killed one Syrian refugee and wounded 9 others as well as a Turkish translator, sources told Al Arabiya.

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. (Reuters)

Around 25,000 Syrian refugees are currently housed in camps in Turkey’s three provinces bordering Syria, where civilians have been fleeing the government’s deadly repression of pro-democracy protests for more than a year.

Annan, the top mediator for the United Nations and the Arab League, has brokered a deal whereby Syrian troops should withdraw from protest cities by Tuesday, with a complete end to fighting set for 48 hours later.

U.S. senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, who are due to hold talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara Monday, are also expected to visit refugees in the Hatay province on Tuesday, the diplomatic source said.

On Saturday, Annan called Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to get an update about the situation on the border. Davutoglu told the envoy that he could visit whenever he wished “to see the situation of Syrian victims” fleeing the unrest.

Last month the envoy visited Turkey for meetings with Turkish officials as well as the Syrian opposition based in Turkey, but his tight schedule prevented him from seeing the refugee camps near the border.

Alarmed by a swelling number of refugees fleeing the year-long unrest in Syria, Turkey has warned of unspecified steps if Damascus fails to abide by an April 10 deadline to cease violence.

“We will patiently follow the process until April 10,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying by daily Hurriyet on Sunday.

But “we will implement steps” if violence does not stop after that, he added.

The Turkish premier did not specify what measures his government would take, but several scenarios are being floated by the press, including the setting up of a buffer zone along the border to protect large numbers of refugees.

Escalating violence has triggered a sharp surge in the number of Syrian refugees crossing into Turkey.

A record number of around 4,000 Syrians have entered since last Thursday to escape a helicopter-backed assault by Syrian troops.

Fighting in Syria has raged on despite Damascus accepting an April 10 deadline to withdraw forces from protest hubs as part of a ceasefire plan brokered by Annan.

Turkey fears refugee arrivals could soar in a scenario similar to that which brought half-million Iraqi Kurds escaping Saddam Hussein’s repression during the 1991 Gulf War.

“The numbers are continuously increasing. We are taking measures, we have no thought of closing our doors,” said Erdogan urging the United Nations particularly Annan to take a stronger stance.

Davutoglu told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday his country would seek U.N. assistance if the influx continues.

“We are doing our best to shelter them in camps, temporary housing units. No one is left out,” Davutoglu said. “But everyone should realize that there is a problem here. We will ask for humanitarian assistance when needed,” he said according to The Associated Press.

Turkey maintains an open-door policy toward all Syrians escaping Assad’s crackdown but refuses to call them refugees to emphasize the temporary nature of their asylum on its territory.

Fleeing Syrians are mainly housed in camps near the border, while authorities keep ready additional accommodation in Sanliurfa province, located about halfway along the 910 kilometer (560 mile) Turkish-Syrian border.

Ankara, a former ally to Damascus, cut off contact with Assad and voiced support for the Syrian opposition and rebels after its calls for an immediate halt to bloodshed went unheeded by the regime.

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