Syrian opposition leader asks for help

Swiss Secretary of State Yves Rossier and Syrian opposition leader Abdulbaset Sieda discussed aid to Syrian refugees Keystone

The head of a prominent opposition group in the Syria conflict has used a visit to Switzerland to appeal for international aid for refugees fleeing Syria, and to stress the importance of defining a no-fly zone over the country.

This content was published on August 27, 2012 - 21:43 and agencies

In Bern on Monday, Abdulbaset Sieda met with the secretary of state of the foreign ministry, Yves Rossier, who outlined Switzerland’s priorities in the Syrian conflict and pledged that Switzerland would do its part to help.

Rossier said these priorities included promotion of international humanitarian law, the fight against impunity, provision of humanitarian aid, and support of international mediation efforts.

In a press statement, the foreign ministry stressed that "only a political solution, a negotiated agreement between all parties and addressing the legitimate expectations of the Syrian population, would allow a resolution of the crisis which is shaking Syria and claiming numerous victims every day”.

Sieda sent out a video plea to the international community.

"We beseech you to help the refugees in Turkey, in Kurdistan, in Jordan and in Lebanon,” he said.

Sieda, leader of the Syrian National Council, the most important opposition group outside of Syria, stressed that humanitarian aid alone was not enough to end the bloodbath in Syria. He called for a flight ban and “if necessary”, the provision of international troops.

Asked about the frozen assets of the family of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad which are being held in Swiss banks, Sieda said an immediate release of the funds belonging to the Syrian people was not desirable. Switzerland should block return of the funds until a “new, democratic Syria” exists, he said.

Sieda, who lives in exile in Sweden, was in Switzerland at the invitation of a local chapter of the Social Democratic party. On Monday night he answered questions from journalists and gave a speech titled “Syria—background and perspectives”.

Swiss recommend advisor

As part of their role in brokering peace in Syria, the Swiss have proposed sending former attorney general Carla del Ponte to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Committee's Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

Del Ponte, now retired, used to serve as the appointed prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. 

"Switzerland is intensively engaged to make sure that human rights violations in Syria are properly investigated and prosecuted," said foreign ministry spokesman Tilman Renz, confirming on Monday on Swiss television the proposal to include del Ponte.

Renz continued, "Switzerland is working to extend the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and that is why we propose that Ms. del Ponte go to support the work of the commission."

Syrian aid by the numbers

Switzerland has spent SFr11 million ($11.5 million) in aid to Syria in 2012, according to the foreign ministry.

The funding has been distributed across various aid organisations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, which received SFr1.75 million in 2011-2012; the UN World Food Programme, which received SFr1 million; the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which took in SFr792,000; and Unicef, which received SFr165,000 from the Swiss government.

Swiss-funded Syrian aid projects include the deployment of two experts in shelter construction and psychological care for refugee children in Jordan, as well as deploying a humanitarian aid worker to the regional UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Egypt.

The Swiss have also donated to communities that are helping Syrian refugees in Libya and aided in refurbishing eight schools in Jordan where Syrian refugee children attend. Finally, Switzerland funded an emergency clinic for members of the Syrian opposition, on which they spent SFr53,000.

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