Annan tours Syrian refugee centers in Turkey before heading to Iran

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan (C) watches Syrian refugee children during his visit at Yayladağı refugee camp in Hatay, on the Turkish-Syrian border in Turkey on April 10, 2012. (Photo: EPA)

April 10, 2012, Tuesday/ 13:05:00

As the final hours approached before the deadline for a peace plan that aims to see the Syrian regime withdraw its forces from besieged Syrian towns, UN-Arab League Syria envoy Kofi Annan toured refugee tent cities in Turkey's Hatay province, where the number of refugees fleeing Syrian violence grows daily.

Annan visited a refugee tent city in Hatay province's town of Yayladağı, where some 2,700 Syrians who fled the violence in their country first settled in April 2011. He also toured the border provinces by helicopter. A group of refugees in Yayladağı carried banners just before Annan's visit that called on the Syrian regime to end the killings. Annan met with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay after his tour. In a joint press conference with Annan, Atalay said Turkey anticipates that the UN Security Council will fulfill its responsibilities, and face the fact that there is no concrete progress towards a truce. Annan thanked Turkey for the generous support it has provided for the Syrian refugees.

“I had a chance to talk to women and children who fled from the violence in Syria. We can not succeed in bringing a truce to end the crisis so far, but we will continue our joint efforts,” Annan said. “Syria must provide humanitarian access to the country, and all violence must be stopped on April 12 at 6 am,” Annan declared.

According to Turkish officials, the total number of Syrian refugees taking shelter in Turkey has exceeded 25,000 as of this week. According to UN figures, the number of refugees in Syria’s four neighboring countries has jumped by 40 percent in recent weeks and now stands at about 55,000, almost half of whom are under 18 years of age. This total is likely to grow, however, as there are an estimated 20,000 refugees who have not yet been registered.

Annan’s visit to Turkey lasted five hours before he departed for Tehran to hold talks with Iranian officials. Iran is an important supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and provides both military and ideological support to Assad’s iron-grip rule of the country.

In Moscow on Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem accused Turkey of helping fuel the violence. Turkey “is hosting gunmen, giving them training camps, allowing them to cross the border and smuggle weapons,” he said. “All these acts contradict Kofi Annan’s mission.” Asked about the possibility of a Turkish buffer zone along the border, he said that “Syria is a sovereign state and has the right to defend its sovereignty against any violation.”