* Clinton wary of reports that Syria has accepted peace plan
* US ambassador speaks of reports of abuses by armed groups
By Susan Cornwell and Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON, March 27 The United States on
Tuesday urged the Syrian opposition to unite and pledge to
respect minority rights in a future Syria should President
Bashar al-Assad be driven from power, and warned armed rebels
and government forces against committing human rights abuses.
Disunity among the Syrian opposition to Assad has fed fears
that Syria could slide into sectarian and ethnic conflict, much
as Iraq did after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam
This has worried some governments like the United States
which would otherwise be glad to see Assad's downfall, after a
year in which Assad has been using the army to crush efforts to
end his political dominance in Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Syrian
opposition to lay out a vision of an inclusive Syria in which
minority rights are respected.
"They must be able to clearly demonstrate a commitment to
including all Syrians and protecting the rights of all Syrians,"
Clinton told reporters.
"We are going to be pushing them very hard to present such a
vision in Istanbul," she said ahead of a gathering of Western
and Arab nations in Istanbul on Sunday to discuss a political
transition in Syria.
Earlier on Tuesday, a meeting of Syrian opposition groups in
Istanbul was marred when a veteran dissident and Kurdish
delegates walked out, saying their views were not heard.
The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, said on Tuesday
in Washington that he had received reports that armed Syrian
opposition groups had engaged in human rights abuses. He said he
had warned the rebels, as well as Assad, against committing such
Both Clinton and Ford were skeptical of reports that Syria's
government had accepted the peace plan of U.N.-Arab League envoy
"Given Assad's history of over-promising and
under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by
immediate actions," Clinton said.
Ford left Syria last month because of the violence but
remains U.S. ambassador. At a hearing on Capitol Hill, he was
asked about statements by the U.S.-based group Human Rights
Watch that armed opposition groups in Syria had committed abuses
including kidnapping, detention and torture of security force
members and government supporters.
"We had reports like that last year, when some of the
fighting in Homs became really serious," Ford said. "We raised
it even in Syria when my embassy was still open.
"We discussed it with some of the local revolution council
representatives - who are themselves not members of armed
groups, but certainly are in contact with them - and emphasized
that they would be held to a standard on this if they wanted
support from western countries."
The United States had also raised the matter with the Syrian
National Council, the main opposition umbrella group, Ford said.
He added there was a danger that more hard-liners who
ignored human rights would gain influence on both sides in Syria
the longer the conflict goes on.
Assad's government, Ford said, had committed "massive human
rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity."
The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been
killed in Syria's year-old uprising against Assad. Syria says
rebels have killed some 3,000 security force members and blames
the violence on "terrorist" gangs.
Human Rights Watch also has accused Assad's forces of human
rights abuses, including using human shields in northern Syria
in their efforts to crush the rebellion.