France says wants Syria humanitarian corridors

PARIS Thu Apr 19, 2012 5:09am EDT

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for aid corridors to be set up in Syria to protect opponents of Bashar al-Assad and urged major powers to show unity to persuade Russia and China to drop their support for the Syrian president.

Ahead of a foreign ministers' meeting in Paris on Thursday, Sarkozy repeated calls to create a safe passage for relief organizations - with Syrian approval or an international mandate - to get food and medicine to about 1 million civilians caught up in the fighting.

"Bashar al-Assad is lying ... He wants to wipe Homs off the map just like (former Libyan leader Muammar) Gaddafi wanted to destroy Benghazi," Sarkozy told Europe 1 radio.

"The solution is the establishment of humanitarian corridors so that an opposition can exist in Syria," he said.

While a U.N.-backed truce worked out with international envoy Kofi Annan has held in some parts of Syria, the army has kept up attacks on rebels in some opposition areas.

The Syrian government says it is under attack from armed "terrorist groups".

Thursday's meeting of 14 foreign ministers belonging to an international coalition under the banner of "Friends of Syria", including the United States, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, will take stock of recent developments in Syria and discuss contingency plans if the UN-backed peace plan begins to unravel.

Syria has not fully withdrawn troops and heavy weapons from towns, so far failing to send a "clear signal" about its commitment to peace, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday.

One diplomat due to attend the meeting in Paris said there was no plan on the table for a humanitarian corridor or buffer zones.

"These options are being looked into in case of an unwanted eventuality. No decision has been made and in an ideal world they would need U.N. Security Council backing," the diplomat said.

Under the French idea to bring in aid, humanitarian corridors would link the frontiers of Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, to the Mediterranean coast or to an airport.

An Arab diplomat, attending the meeting, said Assad needed to see the international community was continuing to apply pressure on his government and that the threat of more action if he failed to comply with the U.N. plan was hanging over him.

"What we want is an end to the bloodshed and violence and preferably through a peaceful solution, but we can't wait forever," the Paris-based diplomat said.

Sarkozy, who trails his Socialist rival in polls ahead of the first round of France's presidential election on Sunday, said he was convinced that China and Russia would drop their support for Damascus if the international community showed unity and that Assad's government would fall.

"We called this (foreign ministers') meeting to gather all those who cannot stand that a dictator is killing his people," he said. "I am convinced that Assad's regime is condemned."

"The Chinese, like the Russians, do not like to be isolated and if we unite the major powers to say 'this is the direction we must go in with our Arab allies' then the isolation of China and Russia on this dossier will not last," Sarkozy said.

"We refuse to remain powerless on this subject," he said.

(Reporting By Daniel Flynn)

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