Bloomberg News

Syrian Opposition Says It Would Try Assad, Allies for Killings

October 14, 2011

Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The Syrian National Council, the coalition trying to force President Bashar al-Assad from power, will put Assad on trial if the regime falls, a senior member of the group said.

Burhan Ghalioun, a spokesman for the council, said Assad and other officials would face charges stemming from the regime’s violent crackdown on anti-government protests that has killed thousands of Syrians.

“This will be something normal, and it won’t be just him that will be tried but anyone who has given orders to kill and is responsible for the killing of Syrians,” Ghalioun, a political sociologist at Sorbonne University in Paris, said in a telephone interview yesterday from Paris.

Asked if the council would seek the death penalty for Assad, Ghalioun said, “We will leave it to the legal system. If we are to impose his punishment, then we are not a democratic state,” he said in the interview. “The state will determine the punishment according to the crimes committed according to the law.”

The leaders of the SNC, formed Oct. 2, are trying to follow the path taken by Libya’s former rebels, whose National Transitional Council became the governing authority in the North African country in August after Muammar Qaddafi’s overthrow.

The Syrian group, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, aims to coordinate the struggle to end Assad’s 11-year rule while calling for peaceful means to oust him.

United Opposition

The opposition movement, which had been fragmented, is now united in seeking to end Assad’s rule, moving toward a democratic political system and opposing foreign military involvement, Ghalioun said. A leader of the council will be decided within the coming week, he said, declining to specify where members would be meeting next for security reasons.

Protests demanding Assad’s ouster started in March as part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa this year that has unseated governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Assad has blamed the demonstrations in Syria on foreign- backed extremists.

At least 4,000 Syrian civilians have been killed by security forces, according to Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. Qurabi, a regime critic, has questioned the capabilities of the opposition council because of its divergent views and a large Islamist component.

Ghalioun, 66, a senior member of the council, is a native of the central governorate of Homs, which has been hit by sustained assaults from Syrian security forces since the uprising began in March.

Against Violence

“We will never support violence under any circumstances,” Ghalioun said when asked if the council would resort to violence to resist the state security forces. Libyan rebels took up arms against Qaddafi after an uprising began in February and were able to end his four-decade rule with the help of an air campaign by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Russia and China have blocked efforts by the U.S. and its Western allies in the United Nations Security Council to pass resolutions authorizing expanded sanctions or other actions against Syria. Both Russia and China, key allies of Syria, have said the U.S. and its NATO allies overstepped their UN mandate in Libya.

The council’s goal “is to topple this dictatorial regime and create a pluralistic system that guarantees the freedoms of all people,” Ghalioun said. “The future government will not be affiliated with a particular sect or ethnic group but representative of all the Syrian people and the next era will not be one of revenge.”

Iraq Lessons

“We want Syria to avoid all that happened in Iraq in terms of destruction of the state and its institutions and the continued unrest there that led to chaos,” he said. “We want to avoid civil war and the use of arms.”

After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, one criticism of the U.S. was its disbanding of the Iraqi army, which was followed by a loss of control over borders with neighboring countries and the rise of a violent insurgency.

“Of course I have a fear that the country could slide to civil war, and that’s why I say, if we want Syria to avoid civil strife, we have to ramp up the diplomatic and international pressure on the regime,” Ghalioun said. “We have been contacted by many states and have held meetings with Britain, Sweden and plan to meet with Germany.”

‘Step Forward’

So far, only Libya’s NTC has recognized the Syrian council as the legitimate representative of the nation’s people, Ghalioun said.

The European Union welcomed this week the formation of the council, calling it a “positive step forward,” according to a statement by EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg. Britain also began courting members of the SNC this week.

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, stressed this week the need for the violence in Syria to end and called on the government to engage in a dialogue with the opposition council. The SNC “is an important step,” the emir said, according to the state-run Qatar News Agency.

“It is to the benefit of the Syrian government if it’s able to sit down and reach an understanding with the council on a new constitution that preserves the nation,” he said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem said Oct. 9 his government would retaliate with “severe” measures if any country formally recognized the opposition umbrella group.

The council seeks to have “the Arab League as well all states recognize us as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people,” he said, adding that the council won’t publicly request the league to recognize it.

“We want to gather as much momentum internationally against this regime to cut any hope for it, and any entities that support it and eliminate any notion that there can be any return to the past or that there can be any compromise,” Ghalioun said.

--Editors: Terry Atlas, Jim Rubin

To contact the reporter on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon at mderhally@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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