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Annan plans to return to Syria, urges UN unity

GENEVA (AP) — Special envoy Kofi Annan warned Friday the Syria conflict can have a “serious impact” regionally if not handled properly, saying he will return to Damascus if an advance team makes progress on implementing his proposals to end the bloodshed.

The former U.N. secretary-general told reporters after briefing the Security Council in New York by videoconference that he appealed for unity from its deeply divided members in order to send a strong signal of support to the Syrian government and opposition for his difficult and complex mission.

Russia and China have vetoed two U.S. and European-backed council resolutions that would have condemned President Bashar Assad’s bloody crackdown, which has left more than 8,000 people dead, saying they were unbalanced and demanded only the government stop attacks, not the opposition. Moscow, a longtime Syrian ally, has also accused Western powers of fueling the conflict by backing the rebels.

“The first objective is for all of us to end the violence and human rights abuses and the killings and get unimpeded access for humanitarian access to the needy,” Annan said, “and of course the all-important issue of political process that will lead to a democratic Syria, fulfilling the aspirations of the Syrian people.”

Annan, the joint U.N. and Arab League special envoy, held two rounds of talks with Assad last weekend and made a series of proposals, which he said are aimed at stopping the violence, accelerating humanitarian assistance and establishing “credibility and confidence for the political process when it is initiated.”

U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because Annan’s briefing was private, said Annan told the council that Syria’s response to his proposals has been disappointing so far.

Annan told the reporters the proposals remain on the table and that’s why he is sending a technical team to Damascus this weekend to pursue the discussions, “and at the appropriate time, when I deem sufficient progress has been made, I shall be prepared to go back to the region.”

His spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told AP earlier the mission would discuss practical steps to implement Annan’s proposals including an immediate cessation of the violence and killing and ways to monitor a ceasefire.

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