Cameron, Sarkozy urge Syrian unity


French president Nicolas Sarkozy and British prime minister David Cameron today urged opponents of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to unite so that the outside world could help them overthrow him.

Speaking after talks in Paris, Mr Sarkozy said the lack of unity among opposition groups was as much of a hurdle to resolving the crisis than opposition within the UN Security Council to taking action. He warned that without a credible alternative the uprising would fail.

"The principle obstacle . . . is not just the blockage at the UN. In Libya we couldn't have had the revolution without the Libyans, and we won't be able to have a Syrian revolution without the Syrian opposition making enough effort to unite that we can support them more," Mr Sarkozy said.

"We will not accept that a dictator massacres his people, but the revolution will not be led from outside. Like in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, it must be led from the inside," he told a news conference following a Franco-British summit.

Dr Assad is showing no sign of heeding calls to halt the repression of the 11-month uprising against his rule. His forces today resumed pummelling opposition strongholds in the city of Homs, which has been under fire for two weeks.

Mr Cameron also said the lack of a unified Syrian opposition was limiting what the outside world could do to help, but said France and Britain were working together to see how they could better help opponent groups.

Arab countries will encourage the Syrian opposition to unite before they formally recognise them as a government-in-waiting, the foreign minister of Tunisia said today.

A year into the revolt, the Syrian National Council (SNC) has emerged as the international voice of the uprising but has yet to show a real command over grassroots activists and an armed insurgency.

Doubts over the SNC's authority inside Syria have been brought into focus by a February 24th meeting in Tunisia of the "Friends of Syria", organised by the Arab League to try to build international momentum against Dr Assad.

Asked if there was a move towards SNC recognition, Tunisian foreign minister Rafik Abdesslem said: "There is a move towards supporting dialogue among the different Syrian factions so that it is the effective representative of the Syrian revolution and representative of all parts of the Syrian people.

"If this representation happens and this level of Syrian national consensus is reached then we would have no objection to recognising the SNC," he told a news conference.

Yesterday, 137 states voted in favour, 12 voted against and 17 abstained at the UN assembly on a resolution endorsing an Arab League plan telling Assad to step down. Russia and China voted against, after vetoing a similar Security Council text on February 4th.

World powers will meet in Tunisia next week to discuss the crisis at a conference co-presided by French foreign minister Alain Juppe and Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.

"We want to see the 'Friends of Syria' properly established and the Tunisia meeting to be a success," Mr Cameron said. "We need to take all the action that we can to put the maximum pressure on Assad to go and to stop the butchery that is taking place," he said.

France said yesterday that a compromise with Russia at the United Nations was possible to end the violence in the short term and provide much needed humanitarian aid to Syrians.