MOSCOW, Aug 20, (Agencies): Russia’s foreign minister on Monday accused the UN of hampering the reconstruction of war-torn Syria, as the Moscow-backed Syrian regime calls on refugees to return to the country.
Sergei Lavrov said the United Nations’ political affairs department had last year sent out “a secret directive forbidding organisations belonging to (the UN) system from any project aimed at restoring the Syrian economy”.
Such organisations would only be allowed to distribute aid until progress was made on a “political transition”, he said during a Moscow press conference with his Lebanese counterpart Gebran Bassil. Lavrov asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to explain why the Security Council “which directly oversees the resolution (of the Syria conflict) was not made aware”.
The minister said there had been a lack of transparency and awareness of the situation on the ground as the decision was being made. “I hope he can clear this up,” Lavrov added. Russia intervened in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in 2015, in what was widely seen as a turning point in the seven-year conflict.
The regime now controls around two thirds of the country. Moscow and Damascus are now working to accelerate the return of some 5.6 million Syrian refugees. “Over the last month, around 7,000 refugees have left Lebanon for Syria. We are continuing our efforts in that direction,” Lavrov said.
“The conditions for this are in place and continue to improve.” For his part, Bassil said he was “ready to cooperate with Russian authorities in the framework of several initiatives launched by Russia”. “Conditions in Syria have changed, there are more and more zones where stability and security have been reestablished,” the Lebanese minister said. Syria’s war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.
Meanwhile, the UK government said on Monday it was ending funding for some aid programmes in rebel- held areas of Syria. “As the situation on the ground in some regions has become increasingly difficult, we have reduced support for some of our non-humanitarian programming, but continue to deliver vital support to help those most in need and to improve security and stability in the country,” a UK government spokeswoman told Reuters in an emailed statement.
The Times newspaper had earlier reported that the attempt to create an independent police force would be scrapped from September, while projects funding local councils were being reviewed and would likely be halted by the end of the financial year. The report added that the Foreign Office and Department for International Development had determined the aid programmes in the northwestern parts of Syria to be “unsustainable”.
The UK government said it had spent 152 million pounds ($193.85 million) on humanitarian programmes in Syria for the financial year 2017-2018. Britain had increased its aid as well as supply of armoured vehicles and training to Syria’s opposition in 2013. Syria’s northwest is the last major region still held by rebels. The conflict in Syria has killed an estimated half a million people, driven more than 5.5 million people out of the country and displaced over 6.5 million within it.
In 2011, the United States adopted a policy that al-Assad must leave power. But Washington and its Western allies, including Britain, have subsequently watched Assad’s forces, backed by Iran and then Russia, claw back territory and secure his position.
Russia will help Lebanon return refugees to neighbouring Syria, Lavrov said on Monday, accusing the United States of impeding the general repatriation process by declining to assist in Syria’s reconstruction. Lavrov also called on opposition groups in the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib to distance themselves from the Nusra Front group, formerly the local branch of al-Qaeda. The province was hit by a wave of air strikes and shelling earlier this month, in a possible prelude to a government offensive to regain control.
“We agreed that Lebanon should not be the subject of foreign interference, a pawn in geopolitical games, or a hostage of the Syrian crisis and its negative consequences such as the problem of Syrian refugees,” Lavrov said after talks with his visiting Lebanese counterpart, Gebran Bassil.
According to the UN’s refugee agency, nearly 5.5 million Syrians have fled abroad to escape the country’s war. Lebanon hosts more than 1 million Syrian refugees, equal to more than a quarter of its population, and Bassil told reporters Beirut saw no reason for refugees to remain on its territory. Lavrov accused Washington of being interested in rebuilding only parts of Syria where the opposition to Russia’s ally, President Bashar al- Assad, was active.
Acting US Assistant Secretary David Satterfield has said the United States and other countries would not contribute to Syria’s full reconstruction until there was a “credible and irreversible” political process underway to end the conflict. On Idlib, Lavrov said Russia wanted rebels to separate themselves from groups Moscow regards as extremists. Idlib in northern Syria is part of the last significant rebel-held area in Syria and Assad, who is backed by Moscow, has said his forces will recapture the region. In other news, there is no accurate figure of the number of ethnic Uighurs who have gone to fight with militant groups in Syria, China’s special envoy for the Syrian issue said on Monday, adding he hoped to return to Syria to gain a clearer picture.