UN monitors tour Syria towns as violence persists

United Nations ceasefire monitors were touring towns near the Syrian capital on Monday, an official said, as the European Union slapped new sanctions on the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Neeraj Singh, spokesman for an eight-member advance team of UN observers deployed in Syria, said monitors would be visiting areas near Damascus in hopes of making sure a tenuous ceasefire that went into effect April 12 sticks.

"The advance team is continuing its work carrying out daily visits, establishing liaison with all parties and preparing for the UN supervision mission in Syria which has been established by the UN Security Council," Singh told AFP.

He said the advance team would be joined by two additional observers on Monday.

A total 30 observers are expected in Syria in coming days pending the arrival of an expanded team of up to 300 observers as part of a truce brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.

But it will be up to UN chief Ban Ki-moon to determine whether the situation is safe enough to deploy the 300 observers for an initial 90-day period.

Annan on Tuesday is to brief the Security Council on the situation.

The advance team last week toured several flashpoint regions across the country, including the battered city of Homs where two observers set up base on Sunday.

But despite a lull in the fighting in regions visited by the observers, the violence has continued unabated in other areas, activists say.

At least 28 people were killed at the weekend, including five soldiers, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

The United Nations has said that more than 9,000 people have died since the revolt against Assad's regime broke out in March last year.

Activists and some Western countries have cast doubt on the regime's sincerity in upholding the ceasefire and have accused Assad of simply seeking to buy time and to appease the international community.

In a sign of Western frustration with Damascus, the European Union agreed Monday to slap new sanctions on the regime, banning luxury goods exports and further restricting the sale of items used to repress dissidents, a diplomat said.

"These sanctions will be put in place against Syria," the diplomat told AFP after EU ambassadors endorsed the measures ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

The extent of the luxury ban has yet to be defined but the aim is to deliver a symbolic blow against the posh lifestyle of Assad and his glamorous British-born wife Asma, another diplomat said.

"The Assad couple, as well as his inner circle and leaders of the regime must be made to understand that events in Syria will also impact their personal lives," the source added.

Brussels also decided to expand the blacklist of dual-use goods which can be used for internal repression or for the manufacturing of equipment used for internal repression.

Annan at the weekend singled out Assad's government in an appeal for an end to hostilities by both loyalist forces and rebels seeking to oust him.

"I urge all forces whether governmental, opposition or others to put down their weapons and work with the United Nations monitors to consolidate the fragile cessation of violence," Annan said in a statement.

"The government in particular must desist from the use of heavy weapons and, as it has committed, withdraw such weapons and armed units from population centres and implement fully its commitments under the six-point plan."

Violence across Syria on Sunday killed at least 17 people, including five soldiers, while 11 died on Saturday, according to the Observatory.

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