Conference promises to boost aid to Syrian rebels


THE FRIENDS of Syria conference in Paris yesterday demanded President Bashar al-Assad stand down, urged implementation of the UN peace plan, and called for global sanctions against his regime.

The 102 countries and organisations attending the gathering agreed that “those whose presence would compromise the transition’s credibility should be distanced. In this respect, they stressed that Bashar al-Assad should leave power”, the communique stated.

Foreign ministers and senior diplomats vowed to “massively in- crease” aid to the rebels and provide them with communications and other non-lethal equipment and urged the UN Security Council to adopt “broader and tougher sanctions”.

This would involve placing the peace plan put forward by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which authorises the imposition of sanctions and an arms embargo and, if necessary, military intervention when international peace and security are threatened.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who played a leading role in the meeting, said Mr Assad had to go. “We know that the Assad regime will fall,” she said, observing it was impossible to predict “how many will die” before he departs.

She warned Syrian officials and officers still supporting the regime they could face “consequences” and said a Syrian justice and accountability centre has begun gathering evidence of human rights violations.

Mrs Clinton also warned Russia and China, which have insisted on a policy of non-intervention and resisted regime change, they will “pay a price” for their stand.

She appealed to governments represented in Paris to make this clear to Moscow and Beijing.

Russia and China can be expected to veto any Security Council resolution which adopts the Chapter 7 proposition when the council meets next Wednesday.

Moscow and Beijing are not prepared to endorse any measure that could be used to authorise direct western or Arab military intervention in Syria.

Russia and China are likely to be angered by the demand for Mr Assad’s removal just a week after a meeting in Geneva, attended by the five permanent members of the council, did not call for this. Russia and China argue that only the Syrian people can decide Mr Assad’s fate.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Rvabkov slammed criticisms of his country’s policy. “I categorically reject the formulation that Russia supports Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the situation that has developed in Syria.”

Mr Annan responded to the day’s developments by warning that Syria faces an escalating civil conflict which could spill over into neighbouring countries unless Russia, the west and the Arab states halt “their destructive competition” and put pressure on the parties to end the violence and start talking.

He said: “Assad has to understand that things cannot continue as they are . . . I am sure he realises that [a transition] has to come.”He added: “There is a road map so people will know there is an alternative if they stop fighting . . . They [the West] accuse the Russians of arming the government. The Russians accuse them of arming the opposition . . . instead of coming together to see what can be done.”

Mr Annan denied he was contemplating resignation.