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Turkey, Japan Join Countries Expelling Syrian Diplomats

  • RFE/RL

French President Francois Hollande says the use of armed force could be possible in Syria if it is backed by the United Nations.

French President Francois Hollande says the use of armed force could be possible in Syria if it is backed by the United Nations.

Turkey and Japan have announced they are expelling Syrian diplomats, in moves coordinated with Western allies over a massacre blamed by international investigators on the Syrian government.

Tokyo said on May 30 it had asked Syria's senior ambassador to leave Japan "as soon as possible."

Turkey said it had ordered all of Syria's diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours. Ankara said, "it is out of the question for us to remain silent and not respond" to the May 25 massacre at Houla, which the statement described as constituting a "crime against humanity."

The Houla killing claimed the lives of at least 108 people, mostly women and children.

Spokesman Rolando Gomez has announced that the UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on June 1 on the Houla massacre, based on a request supported by 21 of the 47 nations that are council members.

Moves to expel Syrian diplomats were announced on May 29 by Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, and Australia. Those countries have also been coordinating moves to recall their ambassadors and high-ranking diplomats from Syria.

Bulgaria and the Netherlands have also joined the protest by expelling Syrian diplomats, while Switzerland has declared the Syrian ambassador in Berne "persona non grata."

Russia's Foreign Ministry on May 30 criticized the Western expulsions of Syrian personnel, calling them "counterproductive" because they eliminate channels that could be used to influence President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Moscow remained categorically opposed to outside military intervention in the conflict.

On May 29, French President Francois Hollande said international military intervention cannot be ruled out, so long as such action is backed by the Security Council.

An armed intervention "is not excluded on the condition that it is carried out with respect to international law, meaning after deliberation by the United Nations Security Council," Hollande said.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States had not taken any options off the table but believed armed action was not the right course at present.

"We do not believe that militarization -- further militarization -- of the situation in Syria at this point is the right course of action. We believe that it would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage,” Carney said.

Syrian 'Tipping Point'

With Assad becoming further isolated on the international stage, the UN-Arab League envoy to the crisis, Kofi Annan, has said that Syria is at a "tipping point."

Annan visited Damascus this week to encourage the government and opposition fighters to accept a cease-fire and implement his six-point peace plan.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, speaking at the United Nations in New York on May 30, accused the Assad regime of "blatantly" violating its commitments under the plan "and I think it is quite clear, as we have said for many weeks, if they continue to do so, there should be consequences."

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin, speaking at the same news conference, admitted that Annan's cease-fire -- part of a six-point peace plan -- was all but dead.

"Unfortunately, we do not see tangible progress in the implementation of Kofi Annan's plan, and the point I made in the course of the consultations -- maybe somewhat dramatizing the situation -- is that, essentially, nobody is implementing the Kofi Annan plan," Churkin said.

The United Nations says most of the victims in Houla were executed. UN monitors said spent tank and artillery shells, as well as fresh tank tracks on the ground, were clear signs that Syrian government forces had shelled the town.

In Iran, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said those behind the Houla massacre should be punished, and that the West could not be trusted to resolve the crisis.

Ahmadinejad told France 24 television that all the West wanted was Assad's removal. He said that the West and certain Arab countries were interfering in Syria.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations, U.S. envoy Rice on May 30 accused Iran of arming Syrian government forces.

Call For 'Impartial' Probe
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern that "certain countries" were beginning to use the Houla massacre as “a pretext for voicing demands relating to the need for military measures to be taken."

Speaking to Annan by telephone, he urged an end to violence on all sides and called for an “impartial” UN-led probe into the massacre.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland welcomed Lavrov's call. “We are appreciative of the fact that the Russians are willing to have a full investigation because we think it's indisputable what the investigation is going to show," she said.

"It's going to show that these were regime-sponsored thugs who went into villages, went into homes, and killed children at point-blank range and their parents."
“So from that perspective," Nuland added, "is this going to be a turning point in Russian thinking? We hope so."

Survivors of the Houla massacre blame pro-regime Shabiha militia fighters for many of the execution-style killings in the Sunni-dominated village.

They say militia fighters from Assad's Alawite sect went door-to-door using knives and guns at close range against women and children, while Syria's army had the area surrounded with tanks and heavy artillery.

The Syrian government denies its troops were involved in the killings and has blamed "armed terrorists."

The regime has consistently blamed terrorist provocateurs for starting the revolt against the Assad regime, which is now approaching its 15th month.



With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

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