STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Syria’s main opposition body will expand to include more groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad, part of a reorganization aimed at making it more representative and effective, its leader said on Friday.
Abdulbaset Sieda, leader of the Syrian National Council, said changes would include elections for his successor, to be held among a wider group of activists.
He was responding to criticism from prominent member Basma Kodmani, who quit on Tuesday saying the SNC was divided internally and not up to the challenge of uniting opposition to Assad.
“Sometimes things don’t work as one wants, but we are trying via a restructuring of the SNC to improve the situation,” Sieda told Reuters in an interview during a meeting of the leadership of the SNC in Stockholm.
“It will be bigger and the number of groups will rise ... It will be more representative,” he said.
Western and Arab countries that have called for Assad’s removal are keen to improve cooperation among those trying to dislodge him, including the Istanbul-based SNC.
The mainly-exiled political groups within the SNC have sometimes been at odds with each other, and have not always agreed with rebel fighters operating within Syria, such as the Free Syrian Army, led by defected military officers.
The disparate opposition to Assad includes majority Arabs and minority Kurds, majority Sunni Muslims and members of minority sects, Islamists and secularists, political exiles and those who have stayed behind or returned to fight.
Kodmani, who headed the foreign affairs bureau of the SNC until she quit this week, told Reuters: “My sense was that the SNC was not up to facing the increasing challenges on the ground and was not up to the performance I would have liked it to be.”
“The groups inside the council did not all behave as one in promoting one national project. Some have given too much attention to their own partisan agendas, some to their personal agendas sometimes.”
Sieda, who will soon travel to Madrid for talks with Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo and then to Berlin for a conference, said the SNC would select its next leader through a vote of its full general assembly, rather than appointment by the members of its smaller general secretariat.
“We are not passive, we work all the time. The problem is that you cannot manage to do everything,” said Sieda, a mild-mannered professor of Kurdish-Syrian origin who has lived in Sweden for the last 18 years.
“We have dialogue with various groups on the ground, with the military, with youth groups, with other groups in the opposition,” added Sieda, who has led the SNC for three months and will not be seek to extend his mandate.
Sieda said the SNC favors a secular, democratic Syria which respects minority rights and where power is given to local authorities, away from the centre in Damascus.
That goal would be achieved by setting up a transitional government in which the SNC would play a role, he added.
Sieda predicted Assad would fall within a few months and said the Syrian leader should eventually face prosecution for crimes against humanity, either in Syria or The Hague.
Reporting by Patrick Lannin; Editing by Peter Graff