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Advance UN observer team for Syria on standby

GENEVA — An advanced team of U.N. observers is ready to enter Syria, where the cease-fire has been "relatively respected" despite government troops and heavy weapons still in cities and continuing abuses, the spokesman for international envoy Kofi Annan said Friday.

The advance team is "standing by to board planes and get themselves on the ground as soon as possible" once the U.N. Security Council gives approval for the mission as hoped when it meets later Friday, Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi told a news conference.

Fawzi quoted Annan as telling the 15-nation Security Council that "the continued presence of Syrian armed forces, including armor, in and around population centers, must end immediately. Violence in all its forms, including arbitrary arrests, torture and abductions, must stop."

If the council gives approval, Fawzi said, the advance team would quickly prepare the way for a full mission of up to 250 observers on the ground that would help keep the peace "if the cease-fire holds and it turns into a genuine cessation of hostilities."

Syria's approval for the U.N. mission also is needed, Fawzi said, as is customary with such operations.

Fawzi also quoted Annan as telling the council "that we need eyes on the ground, in light of the fragile calm that appears to be prevailing. We need eyes on the ground quickly to observe and monitor the situation."