UN’s Ban says Syria must allow observers full access

BEIRUT (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday the Syrian government is responsible for guaranteeing U.N. observers full freedom of movement to monitor the country’s tenuous cease-fire, which appeared to be unraveling as regime forces pounded the opposition stronghold of Homs, activists said.

Even though overall violence in Syria has dropped significantly since the truce took effect Thursday, the government’s shelling of the central city of Homs over the past four days has raised doubts about President Bashar Assad’s commitment to special envoy Kofi Annan’s plan to end 13 months of violence and launch talks on the country’s political future.

An advance team of six observers arrived in Damascus late Sunday to negotiate the mission’s ground rules with Syrian authorities.

Ban, speaking to reporters in Brussels, called on Assad to ensure the observers’ work is not hindered.

“It is the Syrian government’s responsibility to guarantee freedom of access, freedom of movement within the country,” he said.

He called the cease-fire “very fragile,” but said it was essential that it hold so that an “inclusive political dialogue can continue.” He said opposition forces “should also fully cooperate.”

The U.N. plans to increase the advance team to 30 people, all of them unarmed, Ban said, adding that the Security Council is expected to authorize a formal monitoring team of about 250 people later this week.

The advance team, led by Moroccan Col. Ahmed Himiche, met Monday with Syrian Foreign Ministry officials to discuss ground rules, according to Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi.

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