Syrian opposition meets to try to forge unity

By: Don Melvin

BRUSSELS — Members of disparate Syrian groups opposed to the rule of President Bashar Assad tried Sunday in Brussels to hash out their differences and plan for a democratic transition.

The different opposition groups are riven by divisions over whether outside military intervention would help or hurt the country – and whether to engage in dialogue with Assad’s regime. In addition, some Islamists opposed to Assad’s rule are not viewed by other opposition members as true democrats.

Member of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, Morhaf Mickael, left, greets an attendee during a meeting of Syrian opposition parties in Brussels on Sunday, June 24, 2012

While much of the focus of the conference, which runs through Monday and had about 50 participants, was on planning for a post-Assad transition to democracy, participants held different opinions on how to reach that point.

If the violence continues, outside military intervention is “essential,” Georges Chacan, a member of the Syrian National Council, told The Associated Press.

“We agree with any intervention to put an end to this regime and to stop the bloodshed,” Chacan said. “But we need to keep the civilian infrastructure working. Because you cannot build a new state, a democratic state on rubble.”

A representative of a different opposition group – Mikail Morhaf, of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change – said rubble was precisely what outside intervention would create.

“Military intervention always puts a country into chaos,” Morhaf said, adding that civil society and the army would be destroyed. “A political solution is the only solution possible.”

That view was shared by Lahbib Adami, the Arab League’s ambassador in Brussels.

“They will have to negotiate, first among the opposition and then even with the regime because it is the warring parties that need to sit around the table and not the friends,” Adami said.

Any military intervention in the Middle East without the support of the Arab League would be politically fraught – and highly unlikely. Western powers did not intervene in Libya, where there was an uprising against a despotic ruler, until the Arab League gave its blessing.

Activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed during the 15-month uprising against Assad’s government, most of them civilians.

The European Union helped finance Sunday’s conference. But Pierre Vimont, a top EU diplomat, said it was for the Syrian people, not the EU, to plan the country’s future.

Vimont said there was no time to lose.

“I think we all can see the sense of urgency that is there at the moment,” he said. “As we go on, and are having difficulty in finding a solution, violence is going on on the ground, casualties are increasing, the number of dead is growing every day. … Time is of the essence here.”

Source: Associated Press

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