The advance team of United Nations (U.N.) Observers has expressed full satisfaction with the “unfettered access” to all areas it wished to visit in Syria. The team, which is 11 strong and will be bolstered with the arrival of two more, said it was talking to all parties including the government and the opposition.

The U.N. team of Military Observers is here to ensure both parties involved in an armed conflict since early last year observe a ceasefire as the first step to resolving the crises that has engulfed Syria leading to the U.N. Security Council taking an active interest in the matter.

Speaking to Indian journalists after returning from one of the most affected towns — Homs — spokesperson of the advance team Neeraj Singh refuted Western media's criticism that his team was banking only on the Syrian government. “We have addressed that question… we are meeting all parties whatever might be the reports from any quarters. It is important to have contact with all…. the mandate of the team according to the UNSC resolution 2042 is to establish liaison with all parties.”

He also did not agree with the perception that the team's movements were being restricted by the government. “We are carrying out the task mandated by the UNSC. We are very much in public eye and there has been media presence in most of our visits.”

Out in the field since Tuesday morning, the advance team first conducted a patrol around Duma and Hamas. It stationed two observers at Hamas and another two at Homs, a city badly hit by clashes between the security forces and armed rebel groups actively supported by countries such as the U.S., Turkey and France.

Asked about the composition of the team, Mr. Singh said: “We never talk nationalities. We all work for the U.N.” Other sources said the team had as diverse a set of nationalities “as is possible”.

Mr. Singh declined to answer many questions, including what reports the team had sent so far and their views on recent incidents of violence such as the blast in Damascus on Tuesday. “We report on a daily basis to Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and don't discuss such things publicly. We as members of the advance team are here to liaise with all parties, carry out patrols and prepare the ground for the arrival of more Military Observers. We don't comment on incidents or reports and only report to the appropriate channels.”

Asked if the team's perception was being affected by Western media reports, Mr. Singh said the Military Observers were very experienced and knew exactly how to go about it. He explained that the UNSC resolution 2042 was for an advance team of 30 and UNSC resolution 2043 had provided for 300 with necessary civilian support.

Sources here said a better appreciation of the situation would be possible once the entire team of 300 was deployed. But the U.N. is essentially racing against time. As the U.N. does not have a reserve force, it is banking on member countries to begin sending their nominees as soon as possible. However, not all countries have the same procedure and some even need parliamentary clearance to send people on U.N. missions.

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