BEIRUT

Middle East

General: Rebel army seeks unity, to be renamed

The FSA says it fears the “proliferation of militias” in the country.

BEIRUT: The Free Syrian Army plans to reform to overcome divisions and address the growing number of militias fighting on its behalf, as well as to rename itself, a rebel general said Wednesday.

Following discussions due to end in around 10 days, the FSA would go by the name of 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 guerrilla insurgent movement buoyed by civilian recruits, was also set to appoint General Mohammad 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 brigadier general, who was among the first to defect to the FSA.

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

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 said 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 Sunni majority countries from “sinking into a civil and confessional war after the fall of the regime” of President Bashar Assad, who hails from the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 06, 2012, on page 8.

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