UNITED NATIONS (AP) — International envoy Kofi Annan told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that the situation in Syria is "bleak" and expressed alarm at reports that government troops are still carrying out military operations in towns where U.N. observers are not present.
He expressed particular concern at media reports that government troops entered the central city of Hama on Monday after U.N. observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people.
"If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible," he said.
The joint U.N.-Arab League envoy said the speedy deployment of the 300-strong U.N. observer force authorized by the council on Saturday is "crucial" to verify what is happening on the ground. The observer force also would provide a basis for moving toward a cease-fire by the government and opposition, he said.
Annan briefed the Security Council by videoconference hours after his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told U.N. Television in Geneva that satellite imagery and other credible reports show that, despite its claims, Syria has failed to withdraw all of its heavy weapons from populated areas as required by the cease-fire deal it accepted.
Fawzi also cited credible reports that "people who approach the observers may be approached by security forces or Syrian army and harassed or arrested or even worse, perhaps killed."
Annan did not mention either the satellite photos or the harassment and possible killing of people who talked to the observers in the text of his closed briefing, which was obtained by The Associated Press, but he stressed that "the government cannot cease action in one area to resume it in another."
He told the council the Syrian government had informed him on April 21 of the withdrawal of troops and heavy equipment from populated areas and the handover of responsibility to police for maintaining law and order. He said he replied that this means troops should be back in barracks and weapons in storage "rather than operationally deployed," and that civilians should not be endangered by police actions.
The called the government's pledge "encouraging," but added: "It should be understood that the only promises that count are the promises that are kept."
Annan echoed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the current situation "unacceptable" and urged the Syrian government to immediately implement his six-point peace-plan, which would culminate with Syrian-led talks that led to a peace settlement.
"A cessation of violence and action on the six points is vital to sustain a political process," said Annan. "Equally, a credible political process is required if we are to sustain any long-term calm on the ground."
He welcomed the council's initial authorization of a 30-member advance team of U.N. observers, and its approval of a 300-strong U.N. observer team. He called for their speedy deployment, with Ban's approval, to get "eyes and ears on the ground" with the ability to move freely and swiftly.
Only 10 observers are currently on the ground, and Annan said two were in Hama on Tuesday.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the council that up to 100 observers would be in Syria in a month, a council diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the briefing was closed. It normally takes many months to fully deploy a U.N. mission.
Annan said available reports suggest the level of violence has decreased since April 12, when the cease-fire was supposed to take effect, with the exception of the spike on Monday.
He said the reported events in Hama on Monday "are a reminder of the risks that Syrians face if our effort to create a sustained cessation of violence does not succeed."
"But we have also seen events change — at least temporarily — in Homs, where violence has dropped significantly in response to the presence of a very small number of observers," Annan said.
John Heilprin reported from Geneva.