Syrian opposition must avoid splits: activist

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 11, 2011 2:35 PM
Syrian opposition must avoid splits: activist

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - Syria's opposition must avoid divisions that play into the hands of President Bashar al-Assad, particularly between campaigners inside and outside the country, Michel Kilo, a leading activist based in Syria, said Tuesday.

During a visit to Paris, Kilo, a writer who spent six years in jail for opposing Syria's leadership, said his group, the National Committee for Democratic Change, did not want foreign intervention of the kind seen in Libya.

The United Nations should instead adopt a resolution allowing observers to monitor and protect civilians, he told reporters.

"The regime is betting on the differences between those inside and outside, and we are trying to not serve that," said Kilo.

Assad's crackdown on protesters against his 11-year rule has killed about 2,900 people, according to U.N. estimates. The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions and are seeking a U.N. resolution against Damascus.

Kilo's group has organized demonstrations in Syria and appears increasingly keen to bridge divisions with opposition groups outside the country.

Some figures inside the country privately criticize the opposition in exile for being too ready to seek outside intervention in Syria.

Other issues dividing the opposition include ethnic and sectarian differences, disagreement over the role of religion in the state and a generation gap between veteran opposition figures and the youthful street activists.

The 71-year old Kilo said he would meet the Paris-based leader of the National Council, a broad opposition group formed earlier this month, including academics, grassroots activists, the Muslim Brotherhood and other dissident signatories of the so-called Damascus Declaration.

The National Council's chairman Burhan Ghalioun has called for his movement to be recognized as representative of those ranged against Assad. But he has faced criticism for failing to unite all strands of the opposition.

Kilo said that while ready to meet Ghalioun in Paris it was not "logical" to be guided from outside when millions were protesting on the streets inside Syria.

"Burhan Ghalioun is my friend, I'm here, he is here and yes we will talk," Kilo said.

"There isn't a huge difference between us and the overseas opposition. We are the same people but with two voices," he said.

Kilo, whose group includes Syrian nationalists, Kurds, socialists, Marxists as well as independents, said he did not support foreign military intervention in Syria because it would raise questions over the country's independence.

"It's not Libya," he said. "We have extremely sensitive relations with Turkey, Iran and Israel as well as minorities such as the Kurds, Allawites and Christians, so we have to handle the situation carefully."

Kilo, a Christian from the Mediterranean city of Lattakia, pointed to difficulties in other countries caught up in a wave of pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world, citing the escalation of a protest by Coptic Christians in Egypt that led to 25 deaths in recent days.

"This will leave a very negative impact (in Syria)," he said. It will frighten the people, who are already extremely frightened."

(Reporting By John Irish; Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut; Editing by Brian Love and Andrew Heavens)