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Syria agrees to Annan's peace plan deadline

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has appealed to UN Security Council to support the April 10 deadline [AFP]Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to start implementing a peace plan by April 10, but UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan told the UN Security Council there has been no progress yet in halting the bloodshed.

Annan appealed to the 15-member council on Monday to back the deadline to increase pressure on the Syrian government to halt its offensive against the opposition, diplomats at a closed-doors briefing by the special envoy told reporters.

Syria has agreed to start partially implementing his peace plan by April 10 and that there should be a "full cessation of hostilities" within 48 hours, Annan told the council.

Syria's Ambassador to the UN confirmed on Monday that Damascus has accepted the deadline for partially implementing Annan's peace plan, but wants the same commitment from the opposition.

"The Syrian government is committed but we are expecting Mr Kofi Annan and some parties in the Security Council also to get the same kind of commitments from the (opposition). A plan wouldn't be successful unless everybody is committed to it," said Bashar Jaafari.

The Syrian government would start by halting the movement of troops into cities, withdrawing heavy weapons from cities and starting to pull back troops.

Annan told the council there has been "no progress" so far on reaching a ceasefire or implementing his six-point peace plan, one diplomat said.

Annan also said the Security Council had to start considering the deployment of an observer mission to monitor events in Syria.

The AP news agency reportst that Syrian government sent troops backed by tanks into rebellious areas Monday, hunting down activists and torching their homes and bulldozing others.

The Local Coordination Committees and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels found around 70 unidentified bodies in the hospital refrigerators, apparently belonging to people killed in earlier fighting.

The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria over the past year while Syrian rights activists put the death toll at more than 10,000.

Western 'scepticism'

But Western diplomats expressed scepticism about the credibility of Syria, which has repeatedly promised to end attacks but has pressed ahead with a year-long assault on anti-government activists that has brought the country to the brink of civil war.

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters that several council members had "expressed concern that the government of Syria not use the next days to intensify the violence and expressed some skepticism about the bona fides of the government in this regard".

Arab and Western nations have called for a deadline to be imposed on Assad, but Russia, Syria's last major ally and a permanent member of the Security Council, has rejected the calls.

Annan went to Damascus this month to meet Assad for talks and has since been in contact with the Syrian government to demand that it start moves to halt the violence.

The Syrian president has accepted Annan's plan but so far made no move to carry it out. His government has insisted there has to be peaceful conditions before it can halt its operations in protest cities.

A Friends of Syria meeting of about 80 countries including the United States, Arab and European nations called on Sunday for a deadline to be imposed against Assad.

'Both sides'

France reaffirmed the need for a deadline on Monday. But Russia, which along with China has vetoed two Security Council resolutions, has strongly rejected the calls.

"Ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help matters," Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said while on a visit to Armenia.

"Annan has a Security Council mandate and it is up to the UN Security Council to decide who is complying with this plan and how," he said.

Lavrov said the peace plan would not work unless rebel forces also agreed to halt fire.

"We intend to be friends with both sides in Syria," he added in reference to Russia's past support for Assad.

Any sending of a UN-backed observer mission to Syria would require a UN Security Council resolution which Russia could block as one of the five permanent members of the council.

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