Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.
A fragile cease-fire seems to be holding in Syria, but in defiance of the UN-backed deal, President Bashar al-Assad has failed to pull back troops (Reuters) and heavy artillery from many towns. Opposition activists and Western powers remain highly skeptical of the regime's intentions. Kofi Annan, who helped broker the agreement, is scheduled to update the UN Security Council at 2 p.m. GMT. Western governments are trying to persuade Russia to drop its veto and allow the Council to ratchet up the diplomatic push for Assad's ouster. Annan has proposed a team of about 250 unarmed UN personnel to observe the cease-fire. A Norwegian general who has been in Damascus the past week negotiating plans for a UN peace-keeping mission said he was "cautiously optimistic" on the prospect. FULL POST
The Chinese government has removed Bo Xilai (WSJ), once a rising political star, from his prominent positions in the Politburo and Central Committee, as his wife, Gu Kailai, is subjected to a homicide investigation in connection with the death of British businessman Neil Heywood. Many analysts are describing the events as the biggest scandal to strike Beijing in decades. Mr. Bo was sacked as party leader of the southwestern megalopolis of Chongqing last month. Chinese state news reported that while Ms. Gu was on "good terms" with Mr. Heywood, who served the family as a "trusted advisor," they did have a conflict over "economic interests." British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he welcomed the investigation. FULL POST
Violence continues in parts of Syria despite the passing of a UN-backed deadline for a total withdrawal of government troops and heavy weaponry. The development does not bode well for a full cease-fire set to come into force on Thursday. Opposition groups reported violence in Homs (BBC) and areas of the northern Aleppo province, as well as conflict in Damascus. Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the Assad regime has tried to comply with the scheduled withdrawal, but blamed "armed gangs" for the ongoing hostilities. Muallem said a cease-fire could only occur when a team of international observers arrived. The UN estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in the rebellion against the Assad's regime, which started more than a year ago. FULL POST
Reports of renewed tank fire in several Syrian cities have left the international community with serious doubts about the sincerity of President Bashar al-Assad's commitment to a full cease-fire by April 12 (Reuters). The news comes just one day after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited ongoing violence in civilian areas as an indication of the deteriorating situation, despite guarantees from Damascus that regime forces were beginning their withdrawal. Thousands of refugees have been pouring over the border into Turkey (BBC) to escape the bloodshed–some 2,300 on Wednesday alone. Analysts say the real test of the truce will come next Tuesday, the deadline by which Assad has agreed to halt the use of heavy weapons and pull forces back from population centers. FULL POST
The Obama administration will begin to lessen financial, foreign aid, and travel sanctions (LAT) on Myanmar's military-backed civilian government, while dispatching an ambassador to Naypyidaw, in response to Sunday's parliamentary by-elections, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced yesterday. Myanmar's longtime pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party won an overwhelming majority of the contested seats (BBC). At the same time, the U.S. administration called on Myanmar's leaders to release all political prisoners, cut ties with North Korea, and cease crackdowns on ethnic minorities. FULL POST
The Syrian political opposition accused President Bashar al-Assad of accelerating a military crackdown on four cities Tuesday, in defiance of Assad's pledge to begin implementing a UN-Arab League cease-fire. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, criticized the Syrian government, saying its actions were "not encouraging" (NYT). A team from the UN peacekeeping department is expected in Damascus within twenty-four hours to discuss the potential deployment of unarmed observers to Syria (al-Jazeera), said a spokesman for UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. FULL POST
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to begin implementing a UN-Arab League peace plan (al-Jazeera) to end the ongoing government crackdown on opposition forces by April 10. However, the UN-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, reported Monday that the government had made "no progress" in implementing a cease-fire, as Western diplomats voiced skepticism over Assad's intentions. At the same time, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, is set to visit Damascus today. Kellenberger is expected to lobby the government to allow for a daily two-hour suspension of hostilities (NYT), allowing for the delivery of humanitarian aid. FULL POST
The United States joined dozens of other countries at the Friends of Syria conference in Istanbul yesterday in agreeing to send communications equipment to Syria's opposition groups (NYT).
Arab countries pledged $100 million to opposition fighters, who remain under continued assault by Syrian government forces. The decision to aid the Syrian army defectors, known as the Free Syrian Army, brought the international Friends of Syria coalition closer to military intervention in Syria.
The move came as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad apparently failed to implement a peace plan developed by Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria. FULL POST
Fighting erupted (NYT) between Syrian government forces and rebels in the north and center of the country, days after Assad vowed to implement a UN-Arab League peace plan developed by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. The international Friends of Syria coalition is set to hold a meeting on the situation in Istanbul on Sunday. Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that Iran has aided Syria in circumventing Western sanctions by providing a vessel to transport Syrian oil to a state-run oil company in China. The deal has potentially provided the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with around $80 million. FULL POST
Arab League foreign ministers met in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad today for a summit, during which they backed a UN peace plan (al-Jazeera) to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's year-long crackdown on anti-government protesters and army defectors. The six-point peace proposal, which calls for a temporary cease-fire between government and rebel forces, was developed by the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. Syria's Assad formally accepted Annan's plan earlier this week, and faces growing international pressure (NYT) to implement the deal. FULL POST
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepted a six-point peace plan to end his regime's year-long crackdown (NYT) on anti-government protesters and opposition forces, said Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria. The announcement came as Assad made a rare visit to Homs, an opposition stronghold that has sustained continued military attacks over the past months. But Assad's critics, including the United States, remained skeptical of his intentions. At the same time, Syrian soldiers targeted rebels taking cover along the border with Lebanon. Syrian activists claimed fifty-seven people were killed in clashes with government forces on Tuesday, while the UN estimated the total number killed in the conflict since last March to be more than 9,000. FULL POST
Fifty-three world leaders pledged to jointly combat the global nuclear terrorism threat at the end of a two-day nuclear summit in Seoul, South Korea. The leaders vowed to pursue nuclear disarmament and combat nuclear proliferation, while supporting "peaceful uses of nuclear energy" (al-Jazeera). Concerns over a planned North Korean rocket launch for next month dominated the summit, prompting international condemnation. U.S. President Barack Obama, who called for a "world without nuclear weapons," met with Russian and Chinese leaders to discuss Iran's nuclear program, which the West contends is for manufacturing weapons.
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