UN must act to stop Syria violence, conference told
ISTANBUL - Agence France-Presse
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meet at the Dolmabache Palace on April 1, 2012 in Istanbul. AFP PhotoThe UN must act to stop the violence in Syria, a major conference heard today as bloodshed on the ground claimed more lives.
The head of the Arab League Nabil al-Arabi called on participants of the "Friends of Syria" conference to "simultaneously call on the Security Council to take a binding decision ... to stop the violence in Syria." As fighting on the ground killed more people and the Damascus regime said it had no immediate plans to pull back its forces, conference host Turkey warned the world would have no choice but to recognise Syrians' right to take up arms if the UN fails to act.
"If United Nations Security Council refrains from taking on the responsibility, the international community will have no chance but to accept Syrians' right to self-defense," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said as he opened the conference.
And US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that by launching new assaults just days after accepting a peace plan by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, President Bashar al-Assad's regime was adding to a long list of broken promises.
"Nearly a week has gone by, and we have to conclude that the regime is adding to its long list of broken promises," Clinton said, according to prepared remarks distributed by the State Department.
Ahead of the gathering, Assad's regime declared victory over rebels and again voiced support for Annan's plan, but kept up its shelling of rebel positions and said it had no plans to immediately withdraw troops.
And as the Istanbul gathering began, violence in Syria killed at least 16 people Sunday, including eight soldiers who died during ambushes and gun battles in the east, northwest and near Damascus, monitors said.
The opposition Syrian National Council, meanwhile, called on the international community to recognize the group as the sole representative of the Syrian people.
"We want the recognition of the SNC as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people," Council head Burhan Ghalioun told reporters in Istanbul.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the conference would recognize the SNC as the main interlocutor, and had agreed to create a working group to consider further sanctions against Damascus when it meets in Paris within the next two weeks.
The SNC also announced that it would pay for the salaries of all those fighting Assad's regime.
The meeting in Istanbul aims to find new ways to pressure the Assad regime into accepting the Annan plan to stop its crackdown on an Arab Spring-inspired uprising that the UN says has killed more than 9,000 people in the past year.
Expectations ahead of the meeting were low as discord among the fragmented opposition and Friends of Syria group outweighs their agreements.
On the eve of the conference, the SNC renewed its call for the arming of the rebels while the United States and Gulf Arab states urged Annan to spell out the "next steps" if Damascus fails to implement his plan.
But an Arab League summit in Baghdad this week had rejected the option of arming any side in the conflict, though members Saudi Arabia and Qatar openly called for arming the anti-Assad movement.
The US has also ruled out arming the rebels, with Clinton reaffirming that Washington is looking at sending non-lethal support like communications gear and medical aid to an increasingly armed opposition.
Syria's neighbour Iraq, which sent a representative to Sunday's gathering despite declining to do so initially, said Assad's regime will not fall and any attempts to overthrow it by force will aggravate the crisis in the region.
"We reject any arming (of Syrian rebels) and the process to overthrow the regime, because this ... will leave a greater crisis in the region," Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a news conference in Baghdad.
Annan's six-point peace plan calls for an end to the violence, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire and access to all areas affected by the fighting in Syria, as well as an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate, and the release of people detained arbitrarily.
Damascus blasted Sunday's meeting.
"Only the naive and those who want to see through the eyes of the Americans believe that this is a conference for the friends of the Syrian people," said Al-Baath newspaper, mouthpiece of Assad's ruling party by the same name.
"The call (by Saudi Arabia) ... to arm the terrorists, encourage the bloodbath and destroy infrastructure makes the conference a platform for the enemies of Syria, who are discussing everything but the interests of the Syrians," it added.
Annan is not attending the conference and Russia and China, Damascus's two remaining major allies, have also opted out.