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Paris urges Syrian opposition to stop extremists
Monday - 1/28/2013, 10:53am EST
PARIS (AP) - France warned Monday that extremists could prevail in Syria if nations fail to support the opposition coalition and don't deliver promised funds and political support soon.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, addressing envoys from 50 nations that France is trying to coax into action, says that support is needed to ensure the world's credibility in the eyes of those fighting President Bashar Assad's regime.
"We have to give the Syrian people a clear signal: we are at your side," Fabius said.
The civil war in Syria, which began with an uprising against Assad's regime 22 months ago, has killed over 60,000 people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee the violence, according to the U.N.
The meeting in Paris, attended also by three Syrian National Coalition vice presidents, comes two days before a donors conference in Kuwait.
Promises of funding and other aid made at a December conference of the Friends of Syria group have failed to materialize. France, which has spearheaded the formation of a viable Syrian opposition-in-exile, wants to make sure that aid which has been already promised comes through.
More than $100 million was promised in Marrakech, but French officials refused to say how much has arrived.
More than 100 countries have backed the Syrian National Coalition, formed in November, decreeing it the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. France was the first to confer such recognition.
"If we don't give the means to the Syrian people to go achieve their freedom, there is a risk and we all know that it exists, that massacres and antagonisms amplify, and that extremism and terrorism prevail," the French minister said. "We need to end (the war) in peaceful way and that means increased and concrete support to the Syrian National Coalition."
The coalition replaced an early opposition grouping of exiled Syrians, whose credibility was compromised by infighting and criticism that they were out of touch with the Syrians fighting the Assad regime.
Now the new, more representative coalition has yet to form a provisional government as it said it would do.
Fabius held up the specter of chaos taking over Syria without a legitimate political force.
"Time is not on our side," said Riad Seif, a Syrian coalition vice president. "The Syrian people are angry at this dubious silence of the world."
The coalition "can't keep coming back empty-handed," Seif said.
It's not just cash but things like equipment and expertise that are needed to help the coalition function.
Seif said strong backing from the international community was needed too.
"If we announce a government without a budget, without a safe zone (inside the country), it makes no sense," he said.
Another coalition vice president Georges Sabra, told the Associated Press that "we have to start with $500 million .... otherwise what can this government do?"
The United States set an example ahead of the Paris gathering by announcing Friday it plans to send $10 million in new aid to help alleviate hunger in northern Syria.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)