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Russia's FM warns against arming Syrian opposition

By Aida Sultanova

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 4 2012 5:34 a.m. MDT

BAKU, Azerbaijan — Russia's foreign minister warned other nations again Wednesday not to arm the Syrian opposition, saying it would only escalate hostilities.

Speaking on a trip to Azerbaijan, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Syrian opposition wouldn't be able to overwhelm government forces even if it was supplied with weapons from abroad. He warned that a foreign military intervention would lead to even more disastrous consequences for Syria, where President Basher Assay's forces have violently cracked down on a yearlong uprising in which more than 9,000 people have died.

"Even if they arm the Syrian opposition to the teeth, it won't be able to defeat the Syrian army," Lavrov said. "The carnage will go on for many years."

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two Sunni-ruled nations, have backed the idea of arming the opposition against Assad's Shiite-ruled government, but the West remains opposed. Western nations moved instead to create a fund for the rebels at a meeting in Istanbul.

Russia, along with China, has twice shielded Assad from United Nations sanctions over his bloody crackdown on dissent. But Moscow also has strongly supported U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan, which gives an April 10 deadline for Syrian troops to pull out of towns and cities.

Lavrov reaffirmed that Assad needs to take the first step to end bloodshed, but all international players need to back Annan's proposals.

He criticized Sunday's meeting of the "Friends of the Syrian People" in Istanbul, saying it sent signals to the opposition that would undermine Annan's plan.

"All that would undermine efforts to end violence," he said. "They want to solve the Syrian problem with the opposition only, but it's impossible to settle the situation like that. There must be a dialogue of all the parties involved."

Lavrov added that Moscow will host two separate delegations of Syrian rebels for talks in the next few days.

While Moscow has shown signs of increasing impatience with its old ally, criticizing Assad for being too slow at reforms, it also has criticized the West and Arab Gulf states for backing the opposition. It has strongly opposed U.N. sanctions against Assad, saying that the global body shouldn't be turned into an instrument for regime change.

Russia has vowed to block any U.N. resolution that could pave the way for a replay of what happened in Libya, where NATO action helped oust longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Lavrov said NATO nations had abused a U.N. resolution that cleared the way for a military action in Libya, killing civilians and "leaving something that can't be called a state in the end."

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