UN rights chief steps up pressure over Syria toll

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The office of the UN human rights chief said on Friday that it was extremely worried about reports that 700 to 850 people have been killed in Syria's pro-democracy protests since March.

A spokesman for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay again urged Syrian authorities to halt its bid to "silence opponents".

"NGO (non governmental organisation) reports are suggesting that somewhere between 700 and 850 people have been killed since the start of the protests on March 15 and thousands have reportedly been arrested," the spokesman, Rupert Colville, said.

"These are extremely worrying reports and we urge the government to exercise restraint again, to cease the use of force and the mass arrests being used to silence opponents," he added.

Colville said the UN had been unable to verify the numbers but noted that were backed by detailed lists.

"We don't believe the numbers are unlikely," he told journalists.

Pillay's office is still holding talks with Syrian authorities to try to convince them allow a fact finding mission into the country, after the UN Human Rights Council voted for such a probe on April 29.

"We are currently preparing for this high level mission which will be headed by the deputy high commissioner for human rights Kyung-wha Kang and we hope to deploy as soon as we are granted access," Colville said.

"The mission will get underway come what may," he added.

Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces mounted a sweeping arrest campaign in protest hotspots on Friday.

A leading activist said Assad had ordered troops not to fire on rallies called by opponents on Friday.

© 2011 AFP

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