Syria rebel army seeks unity, to be renamed: General

AFP , Wednesday 5 Sep 2012

Organisational changes are to take place within the Free Syrian Army, 'preventing the creation of militias,' according to high-ranking officer

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) plans to reform, to overcome divisions and address the growing number of militias fighting on its behalf, a rebel general said Wednesday. It will also adopt a new name.

Following discussions due to end in around 10 days, the FSA will become the Syrian National Army, General Mustafa Al-Sheikh, head of the military council grouping rebel chiefs, told AFP.

The FSA, which has grown from a rag-tag force of military defectors into a popular insurgent movement buoyed by civilian recruits, was also set to appoint General Mohammed Hussein Hajj Ali as its highest-ranking officer.

"After a long period, we must restructure the army because we fear the proliferation of militias in Syria and want to preserve the country's future," said the general, who was among the first to defect to the FSA.

Among the areas that needed restructuring is the control of funds that reach rebel fighters, in order to "prevent the creation of militias, because that is very dangerous," said Sheikh.

While rebel groups are gathered under the auspices of the FSA, the structure of the rebel army remains vague and lacks a strong and cohesive central command.

"There are many groups that claim to be the FSA, but do as they please," said the general. He added that reforms were key to winning the support of the international community, which has so far been reluctant to arm the rebels "on the grounds that the (FSA) is not a real institution."

The rebel army has thousands of fighters, among them about 3,000 officers of various ranks, including 70 generals, according to Sheikh.

Unifying the FSA ranks would prevent the Sunni majority country from "sinking into a civil and confessional war after the fall of the regime" of President Bashar Al-Assad, who hails from the Alawite offshoot of Shia Islam.

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