Ambassadors as human shields in Syrian revolt

Julian Borger writes:

The American and French ambassadors to Damascus now have some company as occasional human shields for the Syrian protest movement. At the vigil on Sunday of Giyath Matar, a human rights activist tortured and killed in custody, Robert Ford and Eric Chevallier were joined by other western envoys, including the UK’s Simon Collis, and representatives from Germany, Canada, Japan, Netherlands and the EU.

British diplomats said that if Collis had been in the country at the time he would have joined Ford and Chevalier on their celebrated trips to Hama in July, which drew attention to the threat of a bloodbath in the opposition stronghold. Ford’s high-profile role in particular led to violent pro-government protests outside the US embassy and a ban on diplomats travelling without specific permission.

The measure of protection provided by the coordinated diplomatic presence is limited. The Washington Post’s Liz Sly tweeted that the funeral tent at the Matar wake was trashed by security forces an hour later. And the risk to the diplomats is real. It is an uncomfortable and somewhat bizarre position to be in being the diplomatic representative of a country openly calling for the toppling of the host regime. Ford has noted on his Facebook page that he has received death threats, but British diplomats say there will be more such public appearances at opposition events.

“We have said we will stand with the Syrian people, whether that means grieving with them or talking to the opposition,” a diplomat said. He added that it was critical that the Syrian protesters should not feel forgotten by the world while the focus is on Libya and the Palestinian resolution next week at the UN.

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