Leading opposition group pulls out of 'Friends of Syria' meet

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, February 24, 2012

One of the main Syrian opposition groups announced on Friday it was boycotting the international “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunis, citing concerns about Western-led military interference.

The National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB) denounced what it described as attempts to leave the door open to militarize the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

It also criticized the favoring of the Western-backed Syrian National Council (SNC) over other opposition groups.

"We have seen a dangerous trend towards ... specifying who represents the Syrian people ... leaving the issue of armament vague and opening the door to accept the idea of foreign military intervention," a statement said.

All that came "despite assurances from the Tunisian President [Moncef Marzouki] that opposition groups will be treated equally and that there will not be a recognition of one party at the expense of the others, and that foreign military intervention is a red line and that increasing militarization is dangerous," it said.

The SNC, formed in exile, is a large umbrella opposition group that includes the Muslim Brotherhood and is popular with Western powers and the Arab monarchies.

The SNC have also established ties with armed rebels in Syria, lending its support to the militarization of the uprising, while the NCB insists on a pacifist revolution.

A draft final declaration of the Tunis meeting calls for the Arab League to convene a meeting of the Syrian opposition and praises the SNC, calling it "a legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change."

The NCB had, however, agreed to take part in the Tunis summit, and already sent a delegation to the Tunisian capital, led by prominent Paris-based figure Haitham Manaa.

Headed by Hassan Abdel Azim, the NCB groups Arab nationalists, as well as Kurds, socialists and left-leaning activists, and independent opponents like economist Aref Dalila.

It strongly opposes a Libya-style military intervention in Syria to topple the Assad regime.

Western governments and Arab monarchies have been seeking to undermine Assad's regime through economic sanctions and political isolation.

Gulf states have also committed to aid opposition forces with both finance and resources, raising fears of foreign intervention.

Saudi Arabia made overtures to officially recognize and fund the SNC in January, an SNC official said at the time, despite Riyadh cracking down on pro-democracy activists within its own kingdom.

The warming ties between autocratic oil-rich Gulf monarchies and the SNC has irked the Syrian-based NCB, fearing the Saudis may turn Syria into a proxy war against regional rival Iran.

Russia and China have urged a national reconciliation process with both government and opposition forces, a call echoed by the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

More than 60 nations are gathering for the 'Friends of Syria' conference, which will seek to further isolate the regime and support the opposition.

Both Beijing and Moscow declined to attend the conference in Tunis after citing concerns that such a path could lead to the violence in the country intensifying.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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