'Friends of Syria' want world to choke regime's resources

President of the Syrian National Council Abdulbaset Sieda (L), United Arab Emirates Minister of State Reem Al Hashimi (C) and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (R) arrive for the Second Working Group Meeting on Economic Recovery and Development of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People, at the foreign ministry in Berlin September 4, 2012. The group was created to outline a national economic vision for the new Syria and to place the economy in the service of all Syrian citizens. AFP P

THE HAGUE: Diplomats from over 60 nations and the Arab League met in the Netherlands on Thursday and urged the UN Security Council to choke off the resources Syria's regime needs to battle an 18-month uprising.

The "Friends of Syria" working group on sanctions called on the world and "particularly members of the UN Security Council" to implement measures to deny Damascus access to resources "for its campaign against its own people."

The talks in The Hague were aimed at bolstering and refining sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime as the world struggles to find common ground on how to stop the conflict that has cost over 20,000 lives.

Russia and China have already vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions providing for sanctions against the Assad regime.

The group said that current sanctions had "seriously affected the Syrian regime (including) by cutting off major sources of income such as the export of several billion dollars' worth of oil income."

"These resources are no longer available to the Syrian regime to finance the repression of the Syrian people," it said in a final statement that did not specify new measures to be taken against Assad's regime.

The group stressed the importance of "carefully targeted sanctions that affect the regime but spare the population (and) underlined the importance of well-designed exceptions for humanitarian purposes."

The European Union and the Arab League have already slapped sanctions on the Syrian regime, with embargoes on oil and weapons as well as travel bans on members of Assad's family and his top brass.

"We need vigorous implementation," Netherlands Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said at the start of the talks.

"Sanctions will only have an impact if they are carried out effectively. That is how we can make a difference."

Experts from the financial sector also met in The Hague to discuss ways of bolstering economic sanctions, including through asset freezes.

"It's not a question of whether he will leave but when he will leave," Rosenthal said of Assad.

He added that besides embargoes and financial sanctions it was important to prevent Damascus from monitoring the Internet and using it to detain opponents and journalists.

"To you and me ICT (information and communications technologies) are innocent tools we use every day," the Dutch foreign minister said.

"But we need to ensure it can't be used to commit violence or oppress the Syrian people," he said.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Assad regime's control of the Internet is "remarkably extensive" and allows the regime to keep tabs on mobile phones, emails, texting and other traffic.

A French firm is under investigation for allegedly providing computer surveillance equipment to Syria used to track and arrest regime opponents.

The Syria sanctions working group runs in parallel with a second working group on economic reconstruction in the war-ravaged country.

The "Friends of Syria" group has already held three meetings at ministerial level in Tunis, Istanbul and Paris. Another such meeting is planned in Morocco in October and another at a later date in Italy.

More than 27,000 people have been killed in violence across Syria since March last year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The United Nations puts the figure at more than 20,000.





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