Syria coalition plans council to hasten rebel restructuring

PARIS Mon Jul 15, 2013 8:57pm BST

PARIS (Reuters) - Syria's opposition coalition wants to create a 10-person executive council to reorganise disparate rebel factions into a structured army with adequate financing and weapons, one of its senior members said on Monday.

Islamist militant groups that have come to the fore in Syria reject the authority of the Western- and Gulf Arab-backed Syrian National Coalition, whose leaders live mostly abroad. Last week foreign Islamist fighters killed a commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is aligned with the coalition.

In an interview in Paris, veteran dissident Michel Kilo said the coalition aimed to elect the executive council at its general assembly in the next month. Its members would act as quasi-ministers and would be based within zones under rebel control in Syria and in border areas, he said.

"There will be a bureaucracy linked to the interests of Syrians and independent of the president and the leadership of the coalition," said Kilo, 72, who spent six years in jail for criticising Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He has lived in France for the last two years.

His liberal bloc within the fractious Syrian National Coalition has grown in influence since Ahmad Jarba was elected president this month. Jarba is a member of Kilo's bloc.

Kilo predicted that the war in Syria would last a long time now that foreign factions had joined what had become a theatre for a region-wide Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian conflict, complicated by a growing rivalry between Russia and the United States.

The coalition and its FSA allies have been trying to build a logistics network and reinforce their presence across Syria.

But with funding from Gulf-based sympathisers, Islamist brigades dominate several rebel-held regions of Syria, where they have set up religious courts and governance bodies.

The FSA, an umbrella for many loosely-affiliated brigades, is accused by locals of looting and ill-discipline and has not been able to present a unified front to sideline hardline units who favour an Islamic caliphate over pluralist democracy.

"The FSA is an expression of desire, but it is not a real army," Kilo said, adding that former Syrian military officers sitting idly in Jordan and Turkey should be integrated into the planned new structure. "It must be reorganised, restructured with a real command and discipline," he said.

Kilo said the coalition was working towards setting up a bank, or de facto finance ministry, to channel funds from the Syria diaspora in a more ordered way.

It would also be able to create a budget from funds generated by economic activity in rebel-held areas ranging from farming to oil wells and water distribution, which Kilo said could earn between $5 billion to $7 billion a year.

"If we can achieve this it will be a source of finance and will give us the possibility of being more independent of Arab countries," he said, adding that the coalition could then directly buy the sophisticated weapons rebel forces required.

Kilo, a Christian, has spearheaded efforts by the Sunni-led opposition to garner the support of minority groups fearful of an Islamist takeover should Assad be overthrown.

"We started a revolution for our freedom, but we are now more and more the weakest on this stage, this game," he said.

"It is a war that since Hezbollah entered will extend and last for a long time," he said, referring to the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi'ite armed movement. "It was a war between a regime and a population, but now it is a regional war."

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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