Wednesday, 15 January 2014

British MPs' Times letter shows why world must back moderate Syrian Opposition Coalition

On Monday, The Times featured an important letter signed by senior British MPs from all three major parties, offering support for the moderate Syrian Opposition Coalition ahead of the Geneva II talks next week, and urging that the international community does more to bolster their efforts. The letter is listed below in full.

If you agree with the letter, please share widely. The moderate Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) is battling both the Assad regime and the extremists, and is winning. The SOC and the Free Syrian Army require and deserve more support from the international community as they seek a Syria free of Assad's rule which respects the legitimate rights of  Syria's civilians to democracy, freedom, tolerance and safety.

The text of the letter can be tweeted via Meg Munn MP's website

The President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, has tweeted about it

Other twitter handles that provide information on the moderate opposition are @SyrCoalition @PresidentJarba @smcmediaoffice (the Syria Supreme Military Command media office, giving updates from the Free Syrian Army).


Time is running out for the Syrians 


This month’s Geneva II conference must focus exclusively on the needs and wishes of the Syrian people, whose call for freedom has been brutally suppressed since 2011. To bring about a just, sustainable resolution to the conflict it must address two fundamental, interlinked issues.

First, it must chart the transition to a Syria free of Assad’s rule. The diplomatic success on removing chemical weapons must not deflect focus from the core challenge: a dictator whose regime continues to kill, maim and drive from their ruined towns countless thousands using conventional weapons.

Secondly, Geneva II must redress military disadvantage faced by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which does not receive the funding and weapons which their Islamist and al-Qaeda-linked rivals obtain from extremist networks outside Syria. In return for showing its commitment to a political process and political reform, the Syrian Opposition Coalition must receive more external support for the nascent governance structures, such as a new Ministry of Defence, that it is developing in the areas under its control and for the FSA. If we fail to do this, a combination of Assad and the extremists could annihilate the only opposition who are moderate and favour a peaceful solution.

While diplomats talk, time is running out for Syria’s civilians. The UN now supports three quarters of the country’s 20 million population, including 2.5 million in opposition-controlled areas which are hard to reach, and 2.3 million refugees. According to the World Health Organisation, Syria’s healthcare system has “totally broken down”, and a polio epidemic looms.

With the UN seeking $6.5 billion to alleviate the humanitarian crisis — more than it needs for the rest of the entire world, Geneva II must move us closer to a solution. The international community can do this by bolstering the Syrian Opposition Coalition in creating a secure hub for moderates, capable of defending itself and establishing a democratic, secular and tolerant future for Syria.

Brooks Newmark MP - former Government Whip; Treasury Select Committee
Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP - former Middle East Minister
Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP - former Defence Secretary &Foreign Secretary; Chair, Intelligence &Security Committee
Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP - former Secretary of State for International Development
Rt Hon Sir Richard Ottaway MP - Chair, Foreign Affairs Select Committee
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP - former Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Hon. Bernard Jenkin MP - Chair, Public Administration Select Committee; former Shadow Defence Secretary
Nadhim Zahawi MP - No 10 Policy Board; Business, Innovation & Skills Select Committee
Robert Halfon MP - Public Administration Committee
Jeremy Lefroy MP - International Development Committee

[Liberal Democrats]
Rt Hon Sir Menzies Campbell QC MP - former Leader of the Liberal Democrats; former Shadow Foreign Secretary

Meg Munn MP - former Foreign Office Minister
Gisela Stuart MP - Defence Select Committee
Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP - former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; former Foreign Office Minister
Rt Hon Frank Field MP – former Minister for Welfare Reform
Sir Tony Cunningham MP – former Government Whip; former Shadow Minister for International Development
John Woodcock MP – Defence Select Committee
Mark Hendrick MP – Foreign Affairs Committee

Coverage of the letter on the front page of Monday's The Times

We have to help Syria rebels, MPs tell Cameron

David Cameron has come under fresh pressure to consider arming Syrian rebels after demands from a cross-party group of MPs to “redress the military disadvantage” in the conflict.

In a letter in The Times today, signed by politicians from all three main parties, MPs call on the “Geneva II” Syrian peace conference next week to “chart the transition to a Syria free of Assad’s rule”.

The intervention comes with rebels fighting not only President Assad’s forces, but also extremists connected to al-Qaeda. Civilians have been starved to death by the regime in recent weeks — some observers put the conflict’s death toll at more than 130,000. The letter stops just short of explicitly calling for Britain to support the arming of rebels, but many of the MPs behind it want the issue back on the table.

They fear that the rejection by the Commons last summer of possible British military action in Syria, together with the success in disarming the regime’s chemical weapons, has led to international inaction in helping the Free Syrian Army. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, will face calls in the Commons today to increase the help Britain is providing to the rebels.

Alistair Burt, the former Foreign Office Minister who oversaw Syria policy for three years, said that the time had come to arm the rebels. He said that Mr Assad was “very comfortable” and had no reason to sign a peace deal. “You could argue at the beginning of the conflict that putting more arms into the situation would make things worse,” he said. “I think it is very difficult now to see how things could be made worse.”

The Labour MP Meg Munn, a former Foreign Office Minister, signed the letter. She said: “The West should be getting involved and bombing strategic targets — that was my preference in rebalancing the military intervention.”

The former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell is the only member of his party to sign the letter. He opposes sending arms to the rebel forces, but signed up to increase pressure for a political settlement.

It is understood that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not reconsidering the question of arming the rebels. Many diplomats believe that the optimum time to give weapons to the right groups has passed.

Britain’s policy remains providing non-lethal and humanitarian aid to rebel forces. Diplomatic sources said, however, that there was some optimism that it may soon become clearer who were the “good guys” in the battle, potentially making it easier for other countries to hand them weapons.

Officials believe that the situation is deteriorating, with the Assad regime receiving funding from the Russians, and groups linked to al-Qaeda being given financial support from private sources in the Middle East.