Ahead of Paris gathering of Friends of Syria, Bulgaria offers to host next meeting

Representatives of more than 90 countries and of the Syrian opposition are to gather in Paris on July 6 2012 for a meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People, a contact group with the United States, major European countries and many Arab League states as prominent members.
Russia and China will not be attending, in the way as they absented themselves from the group’s first meeting in Tunis in February and the second in Istanbul, Turkey, in April.
On July 2 and 3, representatives of 300 Syrian opposition groups met in Cairo, reiterating their call for an end to the violence in Syria and the departure from power of president Assad, but did not come up – as backers of the meeting had hoped – with a unified body to represent the Syrian opposition overall.
The Cairo meeting saw scuffles when a Kurdish delegation walked out, complaining that they were being marginalised.
In a statement ahead of the Paris meeting of the Friends of Syria on July 6, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov said that discussions would be held with the representatives of the Syrian opposition on ways to end the violence which so far has resulted in more than 14 000 people being killed and hundreds of thousands being forced to flee or to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.
“We must not forget that while these discussions continue, the Syrian people are being harmed and hundreds of thousands of refugees are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance,” Mladenov said.
The repression and crimes committed by the authorities should not go unpunished, he said. Pressure on the regime in Damascus will continue through new sanctions until the violence ends, Mladenov said.
“This is why, at the third meeting of the Friends of Syria, Bulgaria will again say that change cannot come while Assad remains in power. Along with this, the Syrian opposition needs to come up with a clear plan for a transition to democracy.
“A future democratic and secular Syria must guarantee the rights of all of its citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity and religion. It was in this spirit that the meeting of Syrian opposition groups in Pravets in May was held,” Mladenov said.
Progress in the process of unification, and achievement of it, was an essential step towards the gradual building of a common political platform and a clear vision for the future of Syria, he said.
As part of international efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, Bulgaria was prepared to be the host of the next meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People group, Mladenov said.
Amnesty International said ahead of the July 6 Paris meeting that decisive steps were needed to end the increasingly bloody cycle of repression and abuse in Syria as the armed conflict threatens to further spread and intensify.
The organisation called for the imposition of an immediate arms embargo aimed at stopping the transfer of arms to the Syrian government, a United Nations Security Council referral of the situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and an assets freeze on Assad and his close associates.
Amid growing reports of abuses by members of the armed opposition, states should also stop arms transfers to the opposition wherever there is a substantial risk that they are likely to be used for war crimes or other human rights abuses, Amnesty International said.
Amnesty International called for a dedicated human rights monitoring presence in Syria to monitor, investigate and publicly report on crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave human rights abuses committed by all sides.
“The time for mere talk and handwringing about Syria’s dire situation has long since passed, with in excess of 12 000 individuals already killed during more than 16 months of protest and unrest,” said Ann Harrison, Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
(Photo: US state department)



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