Syria rebel officers plan post-Assad army

AFP , Monday 26 Nov 2012

Anticipating the fall of President Bashar al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army plan 'to lay correct foundations for the construction of the new Syrian army' as a key objective of the Free Officers Assembly

A Free Syrian Army fighter walks on posters depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad spread on a street in old Aleppo November 16, 2012. The writing on the poster translates to "We love you, father of Hafez". (Photo: Reuters)

Syrian rebel officers have formed a commission to lay the foundations for a future army and liaise with the political opposition on issues such as arming fighters on the ground, a spokesman said on Monday.

The announcement came in a video posted to YouTube on Sunday, which shows some 50 Free Syrian Army officers wearing military fatigues assembled in a dimly lit basement room, one of whom reads a statement listing the objectives and basic principles agreed on during their gathering.

Anticipating the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the statement lists as a key objective of the Free Officers Assembly "to lay the correct foundations for the construction of the new Syrian army, which will be a non-partisan defender of the rights and dignity of the people in line with the National Coalition."

Another is to liaise with the Coalition, a newly-formed umbrella opposition bloc, in securing financing and equipment and to provide logistical support to rebel battalions fighting the Assad's forces.

The FOA statement says one dissident officer will be appointed as a representative to the coalition, which seeks to present a united front to the international community in hopes of securing weapons to topple the Assad regime.

The group also stresses the importance of maintaining positive relations with civilians who have taken up arms against Assad.

In preparation for the fall of the regime, the FOA will also "cooperate with the transitional government to enforce security and arms control in the transitional phase."

The commission listed eight basic principles making up a code of conduct, including that officers may not belong to any political party and that each member of a future national assembly "represents only himself, regardless of affiliation to any fighting force on the ground."

Officers, it says, should be loyal "only to God, the people and the nation" and avoid any "partisan, tribal or sectarian allegiances."

Accurate numbers are impossible to confirm, but FSA military council head Mustafa Sheikh told AFP in early November that 70,000 soldiers and 25 per cent of the officer class had now defected, although nearly half of these are in prison.

The rebels have had difficulty overcoming the doubts of Western powers, particularly the United States, which is wary of providing heavy weaponry due to fears of extremist elements among their ranks.

The new Syrian National Coalition, formed 11 November amid much fanfare in the Qatari capital Doha, was snubbed by a number of Islamist groups in Aleppo province, including the two most important, the Al-Nusra Front and Liwa al-Tawhid.

Analysts say that the success of the Coalition will depend on its ability to exert control over the wide array of armed groups fighting Assad's forces, among them hardline jihadists.

Britain and France have joined Turkey in recognising the Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people. Paris has also suggested arming the opposition fighters.

A number of other countries, including the United States, have granted only limited recognition to the opposition bloc while some, including Russia, vehemently oppose such moves.

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