China says Syria peace efforts at 'crossroads'

UN-Arab envoy Kofi Annan (L) during a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the presidential palace in Damascus on May 29, 2012.

UNITED NATIONS - China's UN envoy said Monday that efforts to end the Syria crisis are at a "crossroads" and that government and opposition forces must halt violence.

The Houla massacre has dealt a huge blow to the mediation mission of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, ambassador Li Baodong said as China took over the UN Security Council for June.

"The Syrian issue now is at a very critical moment. The political process to solve the Syrian crisis is at a crossroads," Li told reporters, without signalling any easing in China's opposition to sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria could have a "bright" outcome with a negotiated settlement or "a black prospect where the bloody violence, the conflict lingers on, turning into full fledged civil war, turning into sectarian revenge, sectarian conflict between villages, between neighborhoods, between cities," the envoy said. The May 25 massacre in Houla, in which 108 people were killed, "has caused collateral damage to Kofi Annan's mediation effort. And also it presents a huge challenge to the international community," Li said.

"Whoever did that must be brought to justice," the Chinese envoy said, giving backing to an "independent" inquiry into the killings.

But he said the UN Security Council and the international community must now get behind Annan's six-point plan which calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from cities so that political talks can start. Annan says that the Syrian president has not carried out any of the points.

"The forces in Syria - government, opposition forces - they must fulfill their pledge, their obligations, their commitments to ceasefire," Li said. China has twice supported Russia in vetoing UN Security Council resolutions which hinted at sanctions against Assad. It has also publicly rejected any kind of military intervention.

Li said however that "Syria will be one of the most pressing issues on the council's agenda" in June. There will be five meetings at which Syria is discussed, starting with a briefing by Annan at the council on Thursday.

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