Head of UN probe into Syria expects access to country

AFP , Friday 30 Sep 2011

The head of a UN commission of inquiry into Syria is optimistic about the mission being allowed inside Syria, citing the success of a recent UN humanitarian mission there

An international commission of inquiry into rights violations in Syria said on Friday it hoped to be allowed to visit the country, although it had not yet been in contact with Syrian authorities.

"Our hope is that the Syrian Arab Republic will cooperate and give us access to different authorities, and visit different locations," Sergio Pinheiro, the head of the international commission of inquiry on Syria told reporters.

However, he later added that "we have not yet met the Syrian authorities."

On August 23, at an emergency session, the Human Rights Council ordered a probe into violations committed by the Syrian regime during its crackdown on popular protests.

The probe is the second ordered by the council, an April session having already commissioned an investigation into the situation in Syria.

However, that team was blocked from entering Syria, and had therefore to base its investigation on interviews of people in and out of the country, as well as on videos, photos and written communications.

Pinheiro, however, was optimistic his team would be allowed into the country, citing the success of a recent UN humanitarian mission in Syria at the end of August as an example.

"It is very important that the government cooperates with us ... it is an opportunity for Syria to present its view," he said.

"We will have an open mind. We are an independent international commission, (and) not functionaries of the United Nations," Pinheiro said.

The probe is expected to present the result of its findings in six weeks.

On Thursday, the US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council told reporters the commission was "poised" to enter Syria.

"We believe they'll get access, we'll continue to push for access," US Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that at least 2,700 people had been killed in the unrest in Syria since popular protests first broke out in mid-March.

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