Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Activists says Syrian regime misleading monitors

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Activists accused the Syrian regime Wednesday of misleading Arab League observers by taking them to areas loyal to the government, changing street signs to confuse them and sending regime supporters into rebellious neighborhoods to give false testimony.

The monthlong observer mission, which started Dec. 27, offers a rare outside glimpse into a country where a government crackdown on a 9-month-old uprising has killed more than 5,000 people. But there are fears Assad loyalists have corrupted the observer process beyond repair.

There was no immediate comment from the Arab League. But Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi denied the allegations.

"We don't interfere in the mission's job," Makdissi said, adding that government escorts are necessary to protect the observers.

Activists also said regime loyalists are painting military vehicles blue to make them look like police vehicles — a ploy that allows the government to claim it has pulled the army out of heavily populated areas in accordance with the Arab League plan to end the government's crackdown on dissent.

The plan requires the government to remove security forces and heavy weapons from city streets, start talks with opposition leaders and free political prisoners. Syria agreed to it on Dec. 19, paving the way for the observers to enter. About 100 monitors are in the country now to assess whether the regime is complying.

But the Arab League has acknowledged that killings have continued. Activists put the death toll at more than 400 people since Dec. 21.

The secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, told reporters in Cairo the League will not cut short the observers mission in Syria, a day after an Arab diplomat raised the possibility.

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