Syria opposition split on Annan call for dialogue

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Kofi Annan (L), the UN-Arab League Special Envoy on Syria, arrives for his meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al Araby at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo 8 March 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Published Friday, March 9, 2012

Syria's main opposition groups gave a mixed reaction on Friday to former UN chief Kofi Annan's call for political dialogue to resolve the country's year-long crisis.

Annan, who has been appointed joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, had said his mission was to start a "political process" to resolve the conflict in the country. He is due this weekend in Syria where he will meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In comments made in Cairo on Thursday after talks with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, Annan warned against further militarization of the Syrian conflict and urged the opposition to come together with the government to find a political solution.

"I hope that no one is thinking very seriously of using force in this situation," Annan said. "I believe any further militarization would make the situation worse."

Annan echoed warnings from Russia and China over Saudi and Qatari moves to arm Syrian rebels and plunge the country into civil war.

Annan also said he would be making "realistic" proposals to resolve the conflict.

The call for dialogue was flatly rejected by Syria's external opposition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), while the internal opposition was more receptive to Annan's plan.

Syria's internal opposition, the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB), agreed with Annan on the need for a political solution and said the group were open to his proposals.

"We'll try to meet to Kofi Annan and listen to what he suggests. We want to discuss with him what ideas he has, and of course, as a principle, we know in the end only a political process will solve the situation in Syria," Abdulaziz al-Khayyer, a senior NCB figure, told Al-Akhbar.

Al-Khayyer stressed, however, that the regime's violence needed to stop before any negotiations could take place.

"You cannot talk with a person holding a pistol to your head," he said.

Al-Khayyer also called on the Syrian regime to remove its military from civilian areas, cease violence, and release all political prisoners before engaging in dialogue.

"If these terms can be held and applied then there will be a suitable surrounding for political negotiations," he said.

Burhan Ghalioun, the Paris-based head of the Western-backed SNC, blasted Annan's remarks as "disappointing" and insisted on military action to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

"Any political solution will not succeed if it is not accompanied by military pressure on the regime," Ghalioun said.

"These kind of comments are disappointing and do not give a lot of hope for people in Syria being massacred every day."

The SNC and NCB differ on the role of military force in the revolution and the level of international involvement.

The Istanbul-based SNC reneged on its original commitment to a non-violent uprising, and has since established deep ties with autocratic Gulf monarchies Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The SNC's change in position has raised fears among internal opposition activists that the group is pushing the country into civil war, and thwarting any hope for a peaceful outcome.

The NCB remains adamantly opposed to foreign intervention or the militarization of the revolution, but blames the Assad regime for the ongoing violence and failure to resolve the crisis.

At least 7,500 have been killed since the uprising began last March, according to the latest UN figures, while the Syrian government claims over 2,000 security personnel have died during the crisis.

(Al-Akhbar, AP)

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