Syrian opposition to attend Tunis conference
ROME: Syria’s opposition is expected to take part in an international conference in Tunis on Friday to which European Union and Arab League members as well as China, Russia and United States have been invited.
Speaking after a meeting of Mediterranean region foreign ministers in Rome on Monday, Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem also said the talks had agreed on the need to avoid “an Iraqi scenario” and preserve Syria’s integrity.
“The Syrian National Council and other opposition groups will be represented at the Tunis meeting,” Abdessalem told reporters, reversing an earlier position expressed on Friday when he said the SNC would not be invited.
Tunisia, which hosted a first international conference on Syria in December and broke off ties with Damascus earlier this month, does not recognise the SNC — the largest Syrian opposition group — as an official entity.
“We believe that on the 24th of this month, we shall send a strong message to the Syrian government,” Abdessalem told reporters. “There has been enough killing. There must be radical political change.”At least 6,000 people have been killed in a crackdown on pro-democracy protests by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces since March last year, according to monitoring groups.
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said he hoped the bloodshed in Syria could be halted under a similar scenario to the one which saw Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquish power.
After months of bloody clashes between security forces and pro-democracy protestors, Saleh, who came to power in 1978, signed a deal that effectively ends his rule but protects him from prosecution.
Abdessalem was taking part in the first meeting of the “5+5” states — Algeria, France, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia — since a wave of revolts began sweeping the Arab world last year.
“I don’t think any Arab country is going to ask for military intervention (in Syria). European countries don’t want it either,” he said, adding: “We don’t want an Iraqi scenario… We have to preserve the integrity of Syria.” ”We all agree on the need to urge the Syrian government to put an end to its suppression of demonstration. There are rights that should be secured for the people of Syria. They have a right to freedom and democracy,” he said.
Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said Rome wanted the Arab League’s plan for Syria to be implemented. The Arab League has called for the United Nations to approve a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping force.
Referring to Friday’s meeting in Tunis, Terzi said: “It has to be inclusive. Of course the opposition has to be present.”In the latest developments on the ground, Syrian troops massed around the central city of Homs, sparking calls for women and children to flee the besieged flashpoint city, as Iranian warships docked at the port of Tartus in a show of force.
The reported buildup came as the top US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said any intervention in Syria would be “very difficult” and that it was “premature” to arm the unrest-swept country’s opposition movement.
China’s influential People’s Daily warned that any Western support for Syria’s rebels would lead a “large-scale civil war”.