x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Syria opposition lays out 'road map' for country after Assad

Six months of secret talks in Berlin end with 120-page document covering reform of Syria's justice, security, electoral system and constitution – plus a call for western military assistance to speed Assad regime's downfall.

BERLIN // Syrian opposition leaders ended six months of secret talks in Berlin yesterday by announcing a road map for democracy after the fall of Bashar Al Assad.

The 120-page document called The Day After was compiled by 45 members of the Syrian National Council, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, local coordination committees and scholars living in exile to allay fears of a "chaotic, apocalyptic" post-regime power vacuum.

Their proposals cover reforms of the justice system, security services and electoral system, and the formation of a constitutional assembly, as well as economic restructuring. They include timescales for implementation.

"The project aims to empower Syrians to take their destiny into their own hands, back from the rule of arms and terror into the rule of law and democracy," said Afra Jalabi of the Syrian National Council.

She said the Syrian regime had tried to repress its citizens into "almost a mediaeval mindset" over the past 42 years. "This project is a response to the incredible level of commitment and sacrifice by the Syrian people," she said

The proposals were announced as the death toll in the conflict passed 21,000 and the refugee crisis worsened. The United Nations said as many as 200,000 Syrians could flee to Turkey and more than 160,000 were already in Jordan.

"We are already looking at potentially up to 200,000 and are working with the Turkish government to make the necessary plans," said Sybella Wilkes of the UN High Commission for Refugees.

"We are ready to send in stocks at very short notice."

The talks in Germany included Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Alawites and Druze, youth activists and rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army. The project leaders conceded that not all the recommendations were arrived at by unanimous consent and many would be controversial, but they said the document was an important step towards Syria's liberation.

The Day After proposes taking a number of immediate steps on security, such as vetting retired and active army and police officers to identify trustworthy individuals who could take on leadership roles after Mr Al Assad is toppled.

It proposes suspending the constitution introduced by Mr Al Assad in February and replacing it with one possibly based on the 1950 constitution, to be created by a constitutional assembly including all ethnic groups and possibly approved by a referendum.

After the collapse of the regime, all conventional and non-conventional weapons should be secured, non-state militias should be dissolved, Free Syrian Army members should be vetted and all those who have committed crimes against civilians should be arrested, the document proposes.

"We want to allay the fears of those who fear the day after," said Murhaf Jouejati, another member of the Syrian National Council who took part in the talks. The new army would be under civilian authority and apolitical, he said. He warned that remnants of the regime would try to destabilise the system after Mr Al Assad's fall.

"There is a likelihood of vengeance killings, there is a high likelihood of chaos, of remnants of the shabiha continuing in their brutal violence against the people," Mr Jouejati said.

Members who compiled the document said they had no interest in becoming part of a Syrian government themselves, and it was still too soon for Syria's opposition to form a transitional government, as the French president Francois Hollande had urged on Tuesday.

They pointed out the objections of the United States, which has said the opposition is still too fractured to form a government.

"If the international community is not to willing at this point to recognise a transitional government unanimously, I think that would be a wasted effort," said Ms Jalabi.

"The opposition is trying as best as it can to unite," said Mr Jouejati. "But this is difficult especially when you think that Syrians have been denied the art of politics for the past half-century.

"It is easy to say the opposition is fragmented but it's time to face facts and get the international community behind this uprising against this totalitarian, authoritarian brutal regime."

Members of the group called for western military assistance to speed up Mr Al Assad's downfall in the form of no-fly zones or buffer zones in liberated areas. "We need the means to stop the Syrian regime from killing its people," said Amr Al Azm, who was once an adviser to the Assad government.

"That means being able to stop the jet fighters, the helicopters and the heavy artillery that is employed against us. When you're being bombed by MiG fighter jets dropping 500-pound bombs on you that can flatten five, six, seven eight, 10 houses at a time, we need a little more than just words."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by Reuters