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As Killings Continue In Syria, A Look At UN's Role


Last night in Syria, the third massacre in a week. This time a dozen workers were found shot to death, their bodies dumped in a field. The United Nations has called for an investigation into the mass killings last weekend in Houla of more than 100 people, many of them women and children. We're joined now from the United Nations in New York by Kieran Dwyer. He's the chief spokesman for the U.N. Peacekeeping Department. Mr. Dwyer, thanks for taking the time to speak with us.


SIMON: The massacre at Houla took place a week ago and the numbers are pretty well documented now. It must be hard for people - so many of the observers were in military uniform - to not have a mandate that would let them intervene.

DWYER: The Security Council of the United Nations has set up an observer mission of 300 unarmed military observers. That's the role they have. Of course, it's very difficult for our people on the ground. They're going into these awful situations where of course the expectation and the demand is that they do more. They cannot do more than try to get the parties to stick to their commitments.

Remember, the government is committed to withdraw all its heavy weapons from urban areas, to cease using those sorts of weapons in urban areas. You just cannot expect 300 unarmed observers to actually be able to forcefully prevent violence. They're not set up to do that.

SIMON: Within a couple of days or so of the massacre, Kofi Annan met with President al-Assad. And this is while a number of governments were withdrawing their ambassadors. What kind of signal does it send for Mr. Annan to shake President al-Assad's hand?

DWYER: I think you need to be realistic. Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy, was meeting with President Assad because President Assad controls the military forces of the Syrian government.

We need those military forces to stop armed action and to stop killing. Kofi Annan's job is not to be popular. His job is to do everything diplomatically possible to get the killing stopped, and then to work towards a political solution, because unless there is a lasting political solution, then any cessation of violence would only be temporary in any case.

SIMON: Can you blame a member of the Syrian opposition for not picking up arms to oppose a government that commits massacres?

DWYER: More militarization, more guns in this situation will only make matters worse. So it's not a question of blaming or otherwise somebody picking up a gun in order to try to defend themselves in this situation. What we need here is a de-escalation of the militarization and a de-escalation of the armed violence by all sides.

The government has a particularly heavy responsibility. They are the state. We would say to members of the opposition that the path forward, a solution has to be political, and that more guns, more weaponry, is going to make it harder to get to that solution. More people will be killed.

SIMON: Kieran Dwyer is chief spokesperson for the United Nations Peacekeeping Department. Thank you very much for your time, sir.

DWYER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.