Syrian government agrees to give U.N. observers freedom of movement

A team of U.N. monitors walks through a hotel in Damascus on April 16, 2012. Syria has agreed to allow the monitors to visit anywhere in the country. (Reuters)

Syrian authorities agreed to allow U.N. observers to visit anywhere in the country by foot or by car, take pictures, and use technical equipment to monitor compliance with the cease-fire, according a “preliminary understanding” released Thursday night.

But the issue of using helicopters and aircrafts by the observers remains under discussion, according to the seven-page document, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

The document spells out the requirements of the Syrian government and opposition under the six-point peace plan by international envoy Kofi Annan, including stopping “armed violence in all its forms.”

President Bashar Assad’s government signed the document in Damascus, but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council earlier Thursday that Syria has failed to fully implement any of the six points. The U.N. chief said the situation remains “highly precarious,” citing an escalation of violence including “shelling of civilian areas, grave abuses by government forces and attacks by armed groups.”

The document identifies responsibilities and procedures for the 30-member U.N. advance team, which is slowly deploying to Syria, and any larger observer mission authorized by the Security Council.

Under Annan’s plan, Syrian is required to pull troops and heavy equipment out of towns and cities - which Ban said it has not done.

The preliminary understanding says this means they should return to barracks located “a minimum of 2-3 kilometers outside the perimeter of these population centers.” But it says this doesn’t apply to barracks within cities and towns that are considered the permanent location of units.

According to the agreement, the Syrian government must allow unhindered access of U.N. personnel to facilities, locations, individuals and groups considered of interest and any larger observer mission, the agreement says, and the observers will have operational freedom “to conduct any type of mandated operation at any time, by foot or by car.”

The observers will also have freedom to install temporary observation posts in cities and towns, freedom to monitor military convoys approaching population centers, freedom to investigate any potential violation, and freedom to access detention centers and medical centers in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian authorities, the agreement says.

It says “where appropriate” the observers will notify and coordinate with the Syrian government on their operations.

“The Syrian armed forces may continue to maintain the security of strategic assets and installations, e.g. ports, airports, highways, refineries etc.,” the agreement says.

As for the opposition, the agreement states that Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, must confirm:

-that armed groups allow U.N. observers and humanitarian personnel freedom of movement anywhere in areas they control.

-that opposition fighters stop “all acts of aggression against Syrian army formations, bases, convoys and infrastructure ... against government agencies, buildings, infrastructure as well as private and public properties and not to hinder the resumption of public services.”

-that the opposition “commit to stop all illegal activities according to Syrian law, including assassinations, kidnapping or vandalism; and to return all public and private property, stolen through violence, to their rightful owners,”

-that it “refrain from training, rearming, regrouping or reorganizing military formations ... (and) cease public and private displays of weapons.”

-that it commit “not to conduct or initiate activities such as establishing checkpoints, conducting patrols or policing activities.”

The agreement states that in the event of a violation, the advance team or full observer mission “will investigate the circumstances surrounding the violation and notify the offending party in writing and state necessary corrective

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