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Russia backs monitors for ‘simultaneous’ Syria ceasefire

Russia said Tuesday it will press Syria to accept international monitors who could observe the implementation of a “simultaneous” ceasefire between government troops and rebels.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was discussing the proposal with both the Arab League countries and at the United Nations, where the Security Council debated the crisis on Monday.

“The objective is for both sides to understand that there is an independent observer watching how they meet demands — and we are definitely going to be making such demands — for an immediate ceasefire,” he said.

“This must be simultaneous. We must not have a situation in which the government is required to leave the cities and villages while the armed groups are not made to do the same.

“This is unrealistic, not because we want the bloodshed to continue, but because the unilateral withdrawal of government forces is completely unrealistic,” Lavrov told reporters.

“The Syrian authorities will not go for that, whether we like it or not.”

Russia came under strong pressure from the United States and European powers on Monday to force its Soviet-era ally to halt a year-long crackdown that a top UN official said has claimed more than 8,000 lives.

Lavrov has countered that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces will continue to wage their campaign until Western and Arab governments with sway over the opposition can force the rebel forces to also lay down their arms.

Russia has jointly with China vetoed two past UN Security Council draft resolutions condemning Assad for the violence and has expressed reservations about a new US-backed version of the text now under discussion.

Moscow is Syria’s main arms supplier and has in the past year come under intense pressure from Washington to impose a moratorium in line with Western states.

A bipartisan group of US senators on Monday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calling on Washington to halt its military cooperation with Moscow over the Syria sales.

But a top Russian defence official defended the Syrian sales and gave no sign that Russia was preparing to halt them on account of the violence.

“There is no secret in the fact that we have good and firm military and technological ties with Syria,” RIA Novosti quoted Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov as saying.

“And as of today, we see no basis for reviewing our agreements,” he said.

Antonov confirmed that Russia has military experts working in Syria who advise the government about the proper use of some of the more advanced technology it buys. But he dismissed suggestions that Russia has special forces fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s troops.