SYRIA- United Nations military observers arrived in Syria to monitor a ceasefire agreement amid continued clashes between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and army defectors.
An advance team of UN observers arrived in the capital, Damascus, late Sunday and quickly set about negotiating the mission’s ground rules with Syrian authorities.
The remaining 24 members of the advance team will arrive in Damascus in the coming days, according to UN official.
The U.N. Security Council's resolution to send monitors was the group's first on Syria since the crisis in the country broke out more than a year ago.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged to try to develop by Wednesday a more concrete proposal for an official, and likely more broadly defined, observer mission.
U.N. Secretary-General said Monday the Syrian government is responsible for guaranteeing U.N. observers full freedom of movement to monitor the country’s tenuous cease-fire, which appeared to be unraveling as regime forces pounded the opposition stronghold of Homs, according to press reports on Sunday & Monday.
Ban, speaking to reporters in Brussels, called on the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to ensure the observers are not impeded in any way in their work.
"It is the Syrian government’s responsibility to guarantee freedom of access, freedom of movement within the country," he said Monday. "They should be allowed to freely move to any places where they will be able to observe this cessation of violence."
Ban also called the cease-fire "very fragile," but said it was essential that it hold so that an "inclusive political dialogue can continue." He said opposition forces "should also fully cooperate."
The U.N. plans to increase the advance team to 30 people, all of them unarmed, Ban said, adding that the Security Council is expected to authorize a formal monitoring team of about 250 people later this week.
The advance team, led by Moroccan Col. Ahmed Himmiche, met Monday with Syrian Foreign Ministry officials to discuss ground rules, including what freedom of movement the observers would have, according to Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi.
Although the Security Council has demanded full access for the U.N. team, Assad’s regime could try to create obstacles. The failure of an Arab League observer mission earlier this year was blamed in part on regime restrictions imposed on the monitors, including having to travel with government minders.
Fawzi said in a statement issued in Geneva on Monday that the mission "will start with setting up operating headquarters, and reaching out to the Syrian government and the opposition forces so that both sides fully understand the role of the U.N. observers."
"We will start our mission as soon as possible and we hope it will be a success," Himmiche told The Associated Press as he left a Damascus hotel along with his team Monday morning.
The international community hopes U.N. observers will be able to stabilize the cease-fire, which formally took effect Thursday, although pockets of violence have persisted, particularly in the central cities of Hama and Homs.
Syria`s regime has pledged last week to abide by the terms of Annan's plan, which called for a cease-fire to begin by Thursday morning. Since then, however, opposition groups have reported ongoing violence and killings at the hands of the regime.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem is due to travel to China for two days ''to discuss bilateral issues and the mission of Annan'', the state's Syrian Arab News Agency reported Monday.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency also quoted Monday an unnamed military source as saying "armed terrorists" were behind the violence, a claim made repeatedly by the Syrian regime.
Press reports indicated that Syria's ceasefire appeared to be eroding just hours before the arrival of the first team of UN truce monitors.
Foreign Media Agencies cannot independently verify reports of violence and deaths, as the Syrian government has severely restricted access by international media.
The United Nations estimates that at least 9,000 people have died since the protests began, while others put the death toll at more than 11,000.