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UN orders investigation into Houla massacre

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Human Rights Council condemns Syria for last week's killings in HoulaThe United Nations Human Rights Council has condemned Syria for last week's massacre in the Houla region and called for a UN investigation to identify the perpetrators and gather evidence for possible criminal prosecution.

The 47-member forum, which held an emergency session in Geneva, adopted a resolution on Friday by a vote of 41 states in favour to three against - China, Cuba and Russia - with two abstentions and one delegation absent.

The resolution was put forward by Qatar, Turkey and the US amid international outrage at the killing of 108 people, nearly half of them children, in Houla a week ago.

Speaking from Geneva, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, the permanent representative of Uruguay to the UN and also the president of the Human Rights Council, said the council holds the Syrian government responsible for the violence in Houla.
 
"The council in its resolution understands that pro-regime elements and Syrian govenrment artillery and tank shelling were used against residential neighbourhoods. That means: attacking the civilian population," Dupuy Lasserre said.

"Nevertheless, it reiterates that all violence in all its forms by all parties must seize as well."

The 193-nation UN General Assembly is planning to meet next Thursday to discuss the escalating crisis in Syria and the Houla massacre.

International mediator Kofi Annan and Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, are expected to address the assembly, UN diplomats told the Reuters news agency.

Annan will also speak to the 15-nation UN Security Council that day about the lack of progress implementing his six-point peace plan.

Syrian rejection

Syria's delegation at the Human Rights Council accused "terrorists" of carrying out the killings - its term for anti-government fighters - and rejected the text as politically motivated interference.

It said its own investigation was under way.

"The perpetrators will be brought to the courts and will not go unpunished," Syrian diplomat Tamim Madani told the meeting before the vote.

"Voting for this resolution is tantamount to killing the victims again."

Pillay said Syrian forces and pro-government armed men accused of committing the slaughter could face prosecution for crimes against humanity, in a speech read out on her behalf.

She again called for the Security Council to refer Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

But Russia and China, which dismissed the text as "unbalanced", said that UN observers were already investigating the massacre and there was no need for duplication.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, warned on Friday of an "extremely dangerous" situation in Syria but rejected military intervention as he met with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, in Berlin.

'Elements of civil war'

Amid mounting pressure for Moscow to drop its resistance to tougher UN action on Syria, Putin later flew to Paris for talks with newly elected president Francois Hollande.

In Berlin, Putin appeared to strike a more conciliatory tone, warning of the escalating danger from the Syrian conflict and refraining from openly backing President Bashar al-Assad's government.

"Today we are seeing emerging elements of civil war," Putin said after arriving in Berlin from Belarus. "It is extremely dangerous."

But he also continued to defy calls for tougher UN action to stop the violence, warning at a joint press conference with Merkel: "You cannot do anything by force and expect an immediate effect."

Daily killings continue in Syria despite the April 12 implementation of the plan drawn up by Annan which calls for a ceasefire.

UN monitors reported on Friday that at least 13 people were killed in violence during protests that broke out in towns and cities across Syria to condemn the May 25 killings in Houla.

More than 13,000 people have died in 15 months of violence, according to the British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


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