UN wants prompt access to Syria for rights team

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The UN human rights commission wants prompt access to Syria to investigate reports of hundreds of deaths of demonstrators at the hands of Bashar al-Assad's regime, a spokesman said Friday.

"There is a lot of conflicting information out there. We urge the government to grant us early access so we can clarify these issues," Rupert Colville told a press briefing in Geneva.

"We still do not have a response from Damascus to our official request for access which was sent on the 6th of May but we are continuing to talk to the Syrian mission here," he said.

Colville said the commission had sent a second official letter on May 20 regarding a mission it hopes to start on June 6, "but it is still not resolved when we'll get into Syria."

"We remain deeply concerned about the situation on the ground in Syria and urge the government to grant us early access into the country," he said.

"We are continuing to receive reports of the excess use of force against demonstrators, we've seen videos of victims and snipings on streets.

"There are also allegations of killings by armed groups sponsored either by alleged external forces or by operatives closed to the regime."

The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on April 29 condemning "the use of lethal violence against peaceful protestor by the Syrian authorities" and asking the rights commission to send a mission to investigate.

The United Nations said in early May that Syria had agreed to let a UN team visit the southern city of Daraa, where hundreds are said to have been killed in a Syrian government crackdown, after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appealed directly to Assad.

Ban also urged Assad to cooperate with a UN Human Rights Council inquiry into the clampdown on protests.

But the UN team has yet to be allowed entry to Daraa, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said Wednesday.

According to Syrian officials, "this is a domestic situation which the Syrian authorities feel that they have themselves the capacity to deal with," she said.

Human rights groups say that at least 1,000 people have been killed and more than 10,000 arrested in Syria since the protests began in mid-March.

© 2011 AFP

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