Syria opposition makes demands before peace conference

Syria opposition makes demands before peace conference

ISTANBUL - Agence France-Presse
Syria's divided opposition coalition has reiterated its demand to the international community that any negotiations with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad must lead to his resignation, according to a statement released May 29.

"The Syrian (National) Coalition welcomes international efforts to find a political solution to the suffering Syrians have endured for over two years," said the main opposition group. The coalition also stated that "the head of the regime, security and military leadership... step down and be excluded from the political process".

After reading out the statement, a Coalition spokesman told reporters the group's demands were not preconditions, but stopped short of making a pledge to go to the negotiating table.

"We're not putting preconditions over here. What we're trying to do is to set the right framework to have meaningful negotiations," Khaled al-Saleh said.

"We don't want to give Bashar al-Assad more time to kill more Syrians." The statement comes four days after the Assad regime said it has agreed to attend the US-Russian proposed international peace conference dubbed Geneva 2.

It also comes after a week of chaotic meetings in Istanbul that have all but paralysed Syria's main opposition group.

Reiterating positions stated to the press several times in the past week, the opposition's statement listed three key demands to states that back the Syrian uprising.

"The killing and destruction committed by the regime must stop," while rebels must be "given the means to defend themselves", said the Coalition.

The group also demanded action to "stop the Iranian and (Lebanese Shiite movement) Hezbollah invasion of Syria", a reference to direct involvement by Assad's regional backers in a bloody battle for insurgent bastion Qusayr in central Syria.

The Coalition began its Istanbul meetings May 23, with four thorny agenda items on its plate. The statement on Geneva was the first official position taken in the past week by the group, which appeared unable to resolve internal differences in the past week.

The group has yet to decide on three other discussion points, which included a vote for a new Coalition president, an expansion bid, and the creation of a new rebel government.

Paralysed by internal divisions and conflicting international agendas, the Coalition appears unlikely to agree in the coming hours on the remaining agenda items. Several Coalition officials have left the meeting, claiming they have other commitments.