March 5, 2012 / 5:03 PM / 5 years ago

Syria opponent says exiles must build trust on ground

CAIRO (Reuters) - Syria's main exiled opposition must rebuild trust on the street at home by relying more on Syrians who recently lived there and it should seek foreign intervention to end bloodshed in the country, a senior group member said on Monday.

Walid al-Bunni, who fled Syria in October after years spent in and out of jail, told Reuters he and others backing a call for the group to clearly support rebels in Syria did not seek to split it up but instead wanted to bring change from within.

The 270-strong Syrian National Council (SNC) is embroiled in a more heated internal debate on tactics as the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, who has turned his military against protesters, has dragged on for a year.

The SNC encompasses a wide range of voices, including some who fled Syria after protests erupted and others who have spent years abroad. Concerns that it does not represent ordinary people in Syria have deterred Arabs and the West from officially recognizing the group as Syria's legitimate government.

Bunni, 48, speaking from his office in Cairo where he is now based, said the SNC needed to do more to support the protesters, including calling for international intervention, providing weapons to rebels and securing other assistance for Syrians.

"In the beginning they trusted us very well, totally, but we have begun to lose some of this trust. We didn't do enough," said Bunni, who is in charge of foreign affairs for the SNC.

"People on the street want to feel that somebody is beside them, that somebody understands them, that somebody really knows what they want, not somebody who is living in Europe and doesn't know anything about (what) they are suffering," said Bunni, a doctor barred by Assad's government from teaching or practicing after he was first jailed for his opposition activities.

Change

Bunni, who was most recently imprisoned shortly after the uprising began in March 2011 and who then fled after he was freed, said the group had to do more to make sure those "paying with their blood and their future are satisfied with us.

"That is what I would like to see, not a change in the leadership but a change in the way we are working," he said.

The SNC should rely, he said, on people like himself as well as others who lived in Syria until recent months, such as Kamal al-Labwani and Haitham al-Maleh.

Bunni and the other two he named formed a group in February within the 270-strong SNC under the name the Syrian Patriotic Front. The new body wants the SNC more openly to support arms transfers to the Free Syrian Army.

"Others are supporting the army but we want to make it (happen) on the ground, not just in speech," said Bunni, although he said the new group was one of four or five blocs working inside the SNC and was not seeking to splinter off.

Bunni travelled with other senior SNC members to Doha last month where he said Qatar and Saudi Arabia, leaders of an Arab campaign against Assad and who have made calls for arming the rebels, had promised to give financial support to the SNC.

He said it was not clear how much they would give and the cash had not yet arrived.

Asked if he thought calls for arming insurgents would materialize, he said: "We hope it will become a fact that they will support the Syrian Free Army because otherwise we will not be able to face Assad's army."

Bunni said he also expected to see a shift in Russia's position with a meeting planned between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Gulf Arab ministers on Saturday before an Arab League meeting on the same day which Lavrov will also attend.

Russia and China have joined other U.N. Security Council members in expressing "deep disappointment" at Syria's failure to allow the U.N. humanitarian aid chief to visit Syria. But the two non-Western big powers have twice vetoed Council resolutions condemning Damascus for its handling of the protests.

"If Bashar al-Assad does not see the same end for himself like Gaddafi, he will not give up," Bunni said, referring to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who was deposed and killed.

"Putting a military choice on the table is enough for him to leave the Syrians peacefully and go out. The international community will not have ... a choice. Some kind of intervention must happen at the end of the day."

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