Paris meeting urges more funds for Syria opposition

French FM Laurent Fabius, right, listens to Syrian National Coalition vice-president Riad Seif in Paris. (Photo: AP)

January 28, 2013, Monday/ 16:39:00

France pleaded on Monday for countries to keep their promises of funding and other aid to the Syrian opposition or risk compromising the legitimacy of the coalition in the eyes of the people fighting the regime of Bashar Assad.

“We have to give the Syrian people a clear signal: we are at your side,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, addressing representatives of some 50 nations that France is trying to coax action on promises.

The meeting in Paris, attended also by three Syrian National Coalition vice-presidents, comes two days before a donors conference in Kuwait.

Promises of funding and other aid made at a December conference in Marrakech, Morocco of the Friends of Syria group have failed to materialize. France, which has spearheaded the formation of a viable opposition in exile, wants to make sure that already promised backing comes through.

More than $100 million was promised in Marrakech, but it's unclear how much has come through.

More than 100 countries have backed the Syrian National Coalition, formed in November, decreeing it the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. France was the first to confer such recognition.

Fabius said it's urgent to fulfill vows to help, both humanitarian and political, some 22 months after the start of Assad's crackdown.

The coalition replaced an early opposition grouping of exiled Syrians, whose credibility was compromised by infighting and criticism that they were out of touch with Syrians fighting the Assad regime or suffering the results of war.

Now the new, more representative coalition risks its own survival, and it has yet to form a provisional government as it said it would do.

The UN says more than 60,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict in March 2011, and Fabius held up the specter of chaos taking over without a legitimate political force.

“Time is not on our side,” said Riad Seif, a coalition vice-president.

“The Syrian people are angry at this dubious silence of the world,” he said, saying that some even think a plot against their country is afoot. He pleaded for “tangible results” from the Paris meeting, both in aid and political and diplomatic support.

The Coalition “can't keep coming back empty-handed,” Seif said.

Even formation of a provisional government depends on strong backing from the international community, he said.

“If we announce a government without a budget, without a sure zone [inside the country], it makes no sense.”

Meanwhile, an al-Qaeda-linked group fighting alongside Syrian opposition forces claimed responsibility Monday for a suicide car bombing that reportedly killed dozens of Assad's loyalists last week.

These militants have been the most organized fighters battling government troops in the 22-month-old conflict in which more than 60,000 people have been killed. Their growing prominence has fueled fears that Muslim radicals may try to hijack the revolt, and has contributed to the West's hesitance to equip the opposition with sophisticated weapons. Jabhat al-Nusra, which the US says has ties to al-Qaeda and has declared a terrorist organization, said in a statement posted online that one of its suicide bombers detonated a car bomb last Monday at the headquarters of a pro-government militia in the central province of Hama.

Activists said at least 42 people, mostly pro-Assad militiamen, were killed in the blast. The government did not say how many people were killed, although state-run SANA news agency published photographs of what it said was a funeral procession for the blast's victims on Wednesday. In one of the photographs, a dozen men are seen standing behind 11 caskets, wrapped into a Syrian flag. Jabhat al-Nusra has previously targeted government institutions in Damascus with suicide bombers and has led successful attacks on military bases and strategic territory in the country's north.

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