Syrian opposition group not invited to Tunisia conference

AFP, Friday 17 Feb 2012

Tunisia says the Syrian National Council will not represent Damascus at a 'friends of Syria' conference next week

The Syrian National Council, the largest opposition group in the strife-ridden country, will not be officially represented at a "friends of Syria" conference next week, host Tunisia said on Friday.

"There will certainly not be an official SNC representative" at the conference, Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesalem told reporters while recognising that the topic had caused wide debate.

"Each thing in time," the minister said, adding that he hoped to see the creation of an opposition group with "real representation".

Tunisia, which hosted a first international conference on Syria in December and broke off ties with Damascus earlier this month, does not recognise the SNC as an official entity.

The SNC said last week recognition by the Arab League was imminent, though members did not specify the extent of recognition they expected.

Tunisia has invited members of the Arab League and the European Union, along with the United States, to attend the February 24 conference.

Abdesalem confirmed invitations were also sent to Russia and China, the two powers have that have gone furthest to defend the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

"There's no reason to exclude two countries," the minister said.

The minister said the conference would "apply maximum pressure on the Syrian government so that it stops killing its own people."

Abdesalem said military options were not on the table and that Tunisia would never be a staging ground for an attack on Syria.

"We are acting within the Arab League framework," he said.

Abdesalem also defended Tunisia's decision earlier this month to expel a top Syrian diplomat, calling it "ethical".

Tunisia's opposition had criticised the decision as a reckless break with the country's diplomatic tradition.

Abdesalem said Tunisia could not "stand back in silence" noting that the expulsion was decided the day after regime attacks in Homs killed 230 people, according to Syrian activists.

"The situation in Syria is critical and no one can accept such violations against human rights," the minister said.

"What is happening there is just revolution not so different from what happened in Tunisia, a revolution for dignity and freedom," the minster said.

Syrian forces on Friday continued to blast Homs despite an overnight UN vote condemning the repression.

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