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May 30, 2017

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Syria storm too fierce for Annan

JOHANNESBURG -- Scarred by his failure to stop Rwanda's genocide nearly two decades ago, Kofi Annan faces another bloody debacle on his watch as his mediation efforts flounder in Syria.

Steeped in a culture of seeking consensus even when it looks unlikely, the soft-spoken former U.N. secretary-general is again at the point where his diplomatic efforts are being overtaken by mass killings rather than being seen as a step to peace.

Although as mediator for the United Nations and the Arab League he has sounded the alarm in Syria with as much moral force as anyone could muster, Annan has failed to get divided world powers or President Bashar al-Assad to stop the bloodshed.

His qualifications as a star statesman who could make mediation work in Syria — if anyone could — were strengthened by his success in halting a spiraling conflict in Kenya four years ago. But Syria is proving a far tougher task.

"He's driven by the idea of 'don't think no', always looking for the best outcome," Fred Eckhard, who worked as Annan's spokesman during his time as secretary-general, told Reuters. "We'll just see if that's enough."

In little over a week since Annan called on Assad to take "bold steps" to make his peace plan work, loyalist forces have been accused of more massacres, opposition strongholds have been shelled and U.N. monitors have been shot at.

With sectarian violence worsening, Annan could do little this week but express concern and demand access for U.N. monitors to investigate killings.

On Tuesday, his spokesman said Annan hoped to convene a meeting of an international contact group on Syria soon, but no venue or list of participants had yet been set.

Asked late last month what had to happen before his peace plan was declared dead, Annan said only the U.N. Security Council could decide.

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