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US, Syria opposition disagree over terrorist label

By Paul Schemm

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 12 2012 3:32 p.m. MST

The world's recognition of the Libyan opposition gave it a huge boost in the battle against Moammar Gadhafi last year and paved the way for Western airstrikes. Military intervention does not appear to be an immediate option for Syria, however, where the government has the powerful backing of Russia, China and Iran — though the conference pledged a swift international response if Assad unleashes his chemical weapons stocks against his own people.

According to Jon Wilks, the British special representative to the rebels, the purpose of the conference was not so much about military intervention or even collecting donations, but making sure the new opposition was building institutions that would let them channel the aid and administer the increasing amounts of territory under its control.

"The key point is they are setting up institutions and money is coming, it's a better situation than three months ago, they are happy, we are happy," he said, adding that farther down the road for the Cairo-based group would be a provisional government.

Suheir Atassi, one of the vice presidents of the opposition, said in her speech that these structures for delivering aid, free of religious or political affiliations, were now in place across liberated areas, so the most needy during Syria's cold winters get needed supplies.

The international recognition could also eventually pave the way for other sorts of aid, hinted Fabius, the French minister.

"The fact that the coalition, which asks for the right to defend itself, now is being recognized by (many) countries ... I think it is an important point," he said, expressing confidence that "2013 will be the year of the democratic and united Syria."

Despite the civil war grinding away in Syria, many of the delegates expressed confidence it would just be a matter of time before Assad's regime fell and there was a need to start planning for an aftermath.

To that end, the conference pledged to set up a post-war reconstruction fund for the country to be administered by Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

"With the fighting in Damascus, I believe we are coming close to the end, and there is a shift in the balance of power in Syria," Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem said at the closing news conference. "We are coming to the point of talking about the post-Assad era."

According to a representative from Human Rights Watch, there is a strong chance the current human rights violations will pale in comparison to those when the regime falls, which might involve reprisals against former government supporters and wholesale sectarian massacres on the order of Iraq — especially if groups like the now blacklisted Jabhat al-Nusra remain powerful.

The new Syrian opposition has to take into account how they are going to manage justice in the "new Iraq," cautioned Tamara al-Rifai of the rights group.

"We are calling on the Syrian delegation to include transitional justice in any political plan they are doing and calling on the international community to help support that," she said.

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