Britain's Hague to meet Syrian rebels Monday: ministry

AFP , Saturday 19 Nov 2011

Foreign minister would meet representatives from the Syrian National Council and the National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change following months of behind-the-scenes contacts

British Foreign Secretary William Hague is to hold talks with Syrian rebel leaders in London on Monday, a Foreign Office spokeswoman told AFP.

The leading opposition figures would also hold talks with senior officials from Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street office, another government ministry source said.

"The foreign secretary is meeting with the Syrian opposition," said the Foreign Office spokeswoman.

"We have been having regular contacts with a variety of figures in the Syrian opposition for several months. We are now intensifying these."

As part of the plan to step up contact, Hague had appointed Frances Guy, a former ambassador to Beirut, to handle relations with the exiled Syrian opposition, the spokeswoman added.

Hague, who has condemned the violence in Syria, has called for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside over his regime's failure to end a government crackdown on protesters.

The Guardian newspaper said there were no plans to grant the Syrian rebels official recognition, as happened with Libya's Transitional National Council as rebels there fought to oust Moamer Gaddafi's regime from power.

The daily said Britain was also discussing other measures to send a message to Damascus that it would not be diplomatic business as usual when foreign embassies come under attack, as has happened this week.

Angry demonstrators have attacked the missions of France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

France recalled its ambassador to Syria on Wednesday.

On Thursday, diplomats from Britain, France and Germany tabled a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly's human rights committee for a vote expected next Tuesday condemning human rights abuses by the Syrian government.

Success could increase pressure on the UN Security Council to act over the Syria crisis.

Syrian security forces killed at least 12 civilians on Friday, including two children, on the eve of an Arab League deadline for Damascus to stop its lethal crackdown on protesters.

The latest bloodletting came as Turkey and the United States raised the risk of civil war and as thousands of protesters took to the streets to urge nations to expel Syrian ambassadors, in defiance of massive security force deployments.

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