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dinsdag, april 03, 2012

Syria promises to pull forces

Moves to isolate Syrian regime
  • NEW: At least 14 people are killed in Syria on Monday, opposition activists say
  • Friends of Syria member: Paying rebel fighters could encourage more defections
  • Special envoy Kofi Annan will brief the U.N. Security Council on Monday
  • Opposition members call for a timeline for al-Assad to follow through with Annan's plans

Are you there? Send us your images or video. Also, read this report in Arabic.

(CNN) -- Dozens of international leaders have bolstered support for a Syrian opposition group that is vowing to pay rebel fighters.

The international Friends of the Syrian People group formally recognized the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people at a conference in Istanbul on Sunday.

That effectively makes the SNC, which includes many Syrian exiles, the main opposition group that other nations will work with.

The 83-member Friends group -- which includes representatives from Turkey, the Arab League, United States, France and the United Kingdom -- declared its "support for legitimate measures taken by the Syrian population to protect themselves" -- but stopped short of agreeing to send weapons to the poorly-armed rebels.

But the Syrian National Council committed Sunday to paying salaries to rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army, which consists largely of defectors from Syria's military and is now the chief force challenging President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Paying rebel fighters is expected to cost millions of dollars, conference participants said, but one member said the move could increase the rate of defections and "contribute to the demoralization of the regime."

But fresh violence erupted once again across the country Monday morning, killing at least 14 people, opposition activists said.

The dead include a child and four soldiers from the rebel Free Syrian Army, said the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria.

The group also said regime troops launched an arrest campaign in Daraa province -- the cradle of the Syrian uprising -- and burned the homes of opposition activists.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced an additional $12 million in aid to the Syrian opposition -- nearly doubling the amount of American money pledged for humanitarian aid like field hospitals and medical training.

But Syrian National Council member Adib Shishakly said even more aid is needed at a time when more than a million people inside Syria need help.

"A million dollars daily, minimum, is needed," Shishakly said.

"If we don't bring protection for the people inside Syria, it's like we didn't do anything," he added, calling for international backing of the rebel Free Syrian Army, safe zones to protect people and relief and medical support.

He warned that the opposition could not hold out forever if al-Assad does not make good soon on his promise to accept a peace plan laid by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"We cannot keep this thing going," he said. "So if we give a chance to the regime and we don't give a deadline to the Annan mission, then we're giving the Assad regime a chance to commit more killing, more torture."

The Friends group also called for Annan, now the U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, to set a timeline for next steps if the bloodshed continues.

Annan's terms of the peace plan included an end to all violence by the government and opposition, the delivery of timely humanitarian aid, the release of arbitrarily detained people, freedom of movement for journalists, respect for peaceful demonstrations and freedom of association.

Annan will update the U.N. Security Council in a closed session Monday on the prospects for peace in Syria.

Sunday's formal recognition of the Syrian National Council by the Friends of the Syrian People group came after months of concerns by Syrian observers that the opposition is disjointed and didn't have a valid plan for a possible post-al-Assad era.

On Sunday, Syrian National Council President Burhan Ghalioun told the Friends group that the opposition is committed to having an inclusive, democratic government that will not discriminate on religious or ethnic bases and will guarantee civil rights for all if and when it ousts Syria's current government.

But before that happens, he said, the Syrian opposition needs the international community's help to address ongoing violence that already has left thousands dead and to help the hundreds of thousands struggling as a result.

"You are watching the tragic scenes coming from Syria," Ghalioun said, urging leaders worldwide to help with actions and aid. "The Syrian regime is benefiting from the hesitance of the international community and its division, by tiding up its siege on the cities, displacing its residents and shelling its neighborhoods."

CNN cannot independently confirm reports from inside Syria because the government severely restricts access by international journalists, but the majority of reports from inside the country suggest the government is pummeling neighborhoods in an attempt to wipe out dissidents seeking al-Assad's ouster.

The Syrian regime has consistently blamed "armed terrorist groups" for the violence. On Monday, it said five "army and law enforcement martyrs" were laid to rest Sunday after being targeted by such groups.

The United Nations estimates at least 1 million have been affected and more than 9,000 have died since the unrest began, while opposition activists put the death toll at more than 10,000.

CNN's Ivan Watson, Jill Dougherty and Kamal Ghattas contributed to this report.


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