DAMASCUS, Syria — International envoy Kofi Annan gave a bleak assessment of the crisis in Syria on Tuesday, saying violence remains at “unacceptable levels” and warning that his peace plan is the country’s last chance to avert a disastrous civil war.
Annan insisted there is still hope and said the presence of U.N. observers has had a calming effect on the crisis, which has killed at least 9,000 people since March 2011.
“There is a profound concern that the country could otherwise descend into full civil war and the implications of that are frightening,” Annan told reporters in Geneva after briefing a closed-door session of the U.N. Security Council in New York by videoconference. The observation mission, he said, “is the only remaining chance to stabilize the country.”
Syria has become one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Arab Spring, and world powers have been unable to stop the violence. Syrian President Bashar Assad still has a firm grip on power, and his regime portrays his opponents as terrorists out to weaken the country.
Although the death toll mounts daily, the U.N. has ruled out any military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, in part out of fears that it could make the conflict worse. Syria is an important geopolitical linchpin with a web of allegiances to powerful forces, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and close ally Iran.
Annan said a civil war in Syria would bleed outside its borders. “It will not affect only Syria,” he said. “It will have an impact on the whole region and this is why we should all be so concerned for the Syrians, for Syria, and for a region that for geopolitical reasons we should all be concerned about.”
Annan has led diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the crisis, promoting a plan that calls for a truce monitored by observers to lead the way to negotiations for a resolution. But his efforts have been troubled from the start. A truce that was to begin on April 12 has never really taken hold. About 60 U.N. observers are currently in Syria and Annan said Tuesday that a full deployment of 300 should be on the ground by the end of the month.
“We’ve been small in numbers, but even where we’ve been able to place two or three observers, they’ve had a calming effect,” he said. “And I think that when they are fully deployed and working as a team, establishing relations with the people, we will see much greater impact on the work that they are there to do.”