Syria monitors to seek more independence

(CBS) -- The Arab League's one-month monitoring mission in Syria officially ends Thursday as the mandate issued by Bashar Assad's government expires, but with the mission under intense scrutiny for its relative lack of operational independence, monitors tell CBS News they'll be looking for more of it when they ask for an extension.

While Syrian tanks and troops have pulled back from some towns where the opposition is entrenched, and some political prisoners have been freed since the monitoring mission began, opposition members say the Arab League has been ineffective - even accusing the mission of affording the regime cover to continue a campaign of violence.

Arab foreign ministers are expected to review the monitors' report, which is still in the works, at the League's headquarters in Cairo over the weekend to decide on their next steps.

The protocol eventually signed by the Syrian government, after extensive wrangling, says the mission can be renewed for one further month, and CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, says the regime has expressed a willingness to do that.

However, members of the monitoring mission tell Palmer they will seek more independence along with the renewal, and it's unclear how Assad's government will react to a request to renegotiate the terms of the protocol at what is effectively the halfway point.

Members of the monitoring mission tell CBS News they want two key changes in the protocol; first being permission to travel with their own security detail - which would mean armed foreign troops or security agents entering Syria. One of the conditions Assad's government won in the original hashing-out of the mission parameters was that monitors must always be accompanied by Syrian police or soldiers, "for their protection."

Secondly, the monitors tell Palmer they want their mandate to include permission to gather evidence of war crimes - the practical implication being that they believe such evidence exists.

It remains unclear how bold the Arab League ministers will be when they file their official request for an extension with Assad's government, or how the Syrians will react to that request.

The monitoring team expects to hand their full report to Arab League ministers on Saturday, and Palmer says the League will likely hand its extension request to the Syrians by Monday.

The Syrian opposition has said responsibility for the monitoring mission should be handed over completely to the United Nations Security Council.


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