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UN rights chief warns Syrian combatants


The UN human rights commissioner has warned Syria's warring factions that prosecutors will catch up with suspected war criminals. Navi Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council that both sides in Syria are culpable.

Addressing the opening of the 47-member council's three-week session in Geneva, Pillay predicted that suspects would "eventually" be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, despite current vetoes by China and Russia within the UN Security Council.

Prosecutors' probes should "make it abundantly clear to all actors in Syria that they will not escape justice," said Pillay, who is a former UN war crimes judge.

She said the use of heavy weapons and shelling of populated areas by the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad had resulted in high civilian casualties and displacement. She also warned rebel forces that they were not immune from prosecution.

"I am equally concerned about violations by anti-government forces, including murder, extrajudicial execution and torture, as well as the recently increased use of improvised explosive devices," Pillay said. Both sides, she added, had also deployed snipers to target civilians.

In his address to the council, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply troubled by the aerial bombardments of civilians by government forces" and "the apparent choice of both sides to pursue a solution through force rather than dialogue."

Ban urged the Council to be vigilant on the "question of accountability."

Extend investigators' mandate, says US

The US ambassador to the rights council in Geneva, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, called on Monday for a mandate extension for the UN investigative commission led by the Brazilian Paulo Sergio Pinheiro which has held more than a thousand interviews with victims and perpetrators outside Syria.

"There can be no doubt that the architect of this destruction is Bashar al-Assad and the regime must end," Donahue said.

UN rights chief Pillay also called on the Syrian government to "ensure full and unhindered access" to the new UN and Arab League peace envoy for the Syria conflict.

Brahimi prepares visit to Syria

Lakhdar Brahimi spent Monday in Cairo consulting with Arab League officials, including its Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi. Brahimi was also due to meet Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a critic of Syria's President Assad.

Brahimi, a veteran Algerian international mediator, said he would "go to Damascus in a few days" to meet "officials and civil society members in the capital and outside."

Asked if he would also meet Assad, Brahimi replied: "I hope to but I don't know."

More clashes in Aleppo

In Syria's latest violence, regime warplanes are reported to have bombed opposition-held districts in Aleppo, Syria's northern commercial hub.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said warplanes struck from early morning.

"Many buildings were destroyed and the rebels used anti-aircraft guns," the observatory said.

The news agency AFP quoted a Syrian military official as saying the army had regained "total control" of the Hanano barracks in eastern Aleppo, which rebels had attacked on Friday.

In Aleppo on Sunday, rebels killed dozens including troops in two simultaneous bomb attacks on makeshift barracks, according to residents and opposition activists quoted by the news agency Reuters.

ipj/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters, epd)

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