United Nations envoy Kofi Annan is talking to all parties involved in the conflict in Syria at a "critical moment" for the country following the deaths of 116 civilians in the village of Houla on May 26.
The UN said most of the victims of the massacre were summarily executed. In response to the killings a number of European countries, including France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, along with the United States, Australia and Canada, announced today that Syrian diplomats would be expelled.
Fighting has continued in Syria between pro-government forces and rebel militia groups for some 15 months despite a six-point peace plan being agreed and supposedly coming into force on April 12.
Annan met Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as part of what is seen by many as a last ditch bid to end the violence which has left more than 10,000 people dead. Beforehand Annan said he intended to have "serious and frank" discussions with all parties to try and resolve the crisis.
"I have come to Syria at a critical moment in this crisis," Annan said in a statement, adding that he had been "shocked and horrified" by the deaths in Houla. "This was an appalling crime, and the Security Council has rightly condemned it. I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process. And this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone with a gun."
While Russia agreed to a UN Security Council statement condemning the violence in Houla, the country's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that all sides must lay down arms in order to end the violence. "We need to choose – if the priority is to stop the violence, as everyone says, then we need to pressure the regime and the opposition and get them to stop shooting at each other and sit down at the negotiating table," Lavrov said.
"We pressure the Syrian government – almost daily. It takes two to dance, though this seems less like a tango and more like a disco where several dozens are taking part. We must all act in unison."
Following the expulsion of Syrian diplomats by some countries, Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament, said: "This is a step long overdue to isolate the Assad regime; the diplomatic toolbox is now almost empty. The European Union high representative, Catherine Ashton needs to show EU leadership by expelling the Syrian representative to the EU and insisting that all EU countries follow suit and send Syrian diplomats home.
"Mrs Ashton must unite EU member states to end western impotence in the face of the horrific crimes against humanity being perpetrated in Syria. I repeat, there is only one way to stop this insanity – we need an international intervention in Syria right now."This article was first published on PublicServiceEurope.com's sister site defencemanagement.com: Annan in Syria at 'critical moment'