Syrian opposition outlines peace plan, starting with 'truce'
Syria's opposition-in-exile has revealed its plan to bring an end to the six-year civil war which has cost as many as half a million lives.
Opposition leaders at a special conference in London on Wednesday called for international support for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power, saying negotiations had failed because of the Damascus leader's intransigence.
"A packed conference room at the stately Arundel House is the setting for the unveiling of a new transition plan which negotiators hope will end Syria's war," reported The New Arab's Paul McLoughlin from the conference.
"Riyad Hijab - once Syria's prime minister who defected to the opposition - says it will see a complete overhaul of the Syrian state to a new democratic future with justice for all."
Hijab, now leader of the opposition's High Negotiations Committee told the meeting: "The regime refused to talk about transition and we did not have any real negotiating rounds because the regime was not compliant.
"The US has to be serious about this."
Our correspondent said the plan started with a "nationwide truce".
"This, they say, is to be followed by an end to Bashar al-Assad's regime and the emergence of a new, democratic, inclusive Syrian state," he reported.
Hijab wants to see the end of fighting to begin as soon as talks begin, and the complete dismantling of Assad's administration within the next two years.
War criminals must be brought to justice, he said, but Syria's path must ultimately "avoid the mistakes of Iraq."
The plan is to begin with a six-month nationwide truce, an end to sieges and regime bombing, the release of political prisoners, the return of refugees, and the beginning of negotiations.
The second phase will begin the transition from the Syrian regime to a new caretaker government which will see the establishment of a Transitional Governing Body with legistlative powers.
This phase, expected to take around a year and a half, will see the departure of Assad "and his clique" from power, and the establishment of a law and framework for fresh presidential and legislative elections.
Syria's Baath-dominated administration will begin to be dismantled with the restructuring of public, military and political bodies into a democratic multi-party Syrian state, insisted Hijab.
The final phase will see elections take place and military, political and state powers returned by the transitional leadership to the elected government.
Hijab's call was bolstered earlier in the day by British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who called for the mistakes of the Iraq war to be avoided in finding a solution to the Syrian conflict.
Ahead of Wednesday's talks, Johnson accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of "barbaric military tactics" in the ongoing conflict, also criticising Russia's "seemingly indefensible conduct" of backing the Syrian leader.
Calling for Assad's removal from power, Johnson argued that it would be possible to avoid the turbulence that followed the ousting of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003.
"Why should the same not happen again?... Assad is not a strongman but a frighteningly weak leader who can never again hold his country together - not after the slaughter he has engaged in," the foreign minister wrote in The Times newspaper.
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"The entire international community is committed, at least in principle, to getting rid of the Syrian dictator. Even the Russians have accepted that there must be political transition.
"But then the Russians are also employing their military muscle to prevent him from losing and to keep him in power," Johnson wrote.
Johnson said that one priority in ensuring an effective transition would be to avoid sweeping away existing state structures: "That was (one of) the mistakes in Iraq, and it will not be repeated."
The British foreign minister said plans would include a six-month negotiating phase between the regime and the opposition.
The subsequent 18 months would see Syria governed by a transitional body, made up of opposition figures, current government representatives and members of civil society.
According to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, the conflict in Syria, now in its sixth year, has forced more than 4.8 people from the country.
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