France may send Syrian rebels communications equipment

Paris considering alternatives to stalled Annan peace plan, looking to foster a stronger revolt against Assad; plan doesn't involve arming rebels but could give telecoms equipment.

Demonstrators protest against Assad after Friday prayers 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Demonstrators protest against Assad after Friday prayers 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
PARIS - France is considering providing communications equipment to Syrian rebels to encourage a "stronger revolt" against President Bashar Assad's government as major powers look for an alternative to a UN peace plan, its foreign minister said.
Laurent Fabius said France fully supported Arab League-UN special envoy Kofi Annan's roadmap for ending 15 months of violence, but it was also looking at other options.
"There is Annan's effort, but we are also considering - and the Americans have done this - not giving weapons but providing communications equipment so that a stronger revolt develops amongst the population," Fabius told France Inter radio on Friday.
Paris this week proposed making Annan's peace plan for Syria obligatory by invoking the UN's "Chapter 7" provision .
While Fabius reiterated that France was not arming rebels, he suggested that there would also be a push to encourage the insurgency in light of the difficulties with implementing Annan's plan.
"The other idea is that there could be a clear victory of the opposition on the ground, but that would be through extremely violent confrontations," he said, adding that rebels could not achieve this on their own.
"There are entire groups that at the beginning were not hostile to Assad but now are starting to be," he said.
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Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero appeared to play down Fabius' comments saying it was important for the Syrian people to have communications equipment so they could be warned if tanks were heading towards their cities.
He said no decision had been taken on providing the equipment and that Paris would consult European partners on the matter.
"It can save lives and the regime has shown us it wants to commit these massacres in private so it's scared of publicity ... telecommunications allows people to communicate externally and show what is happening in Syria," he said.
Fabius also said there were discussions with Russia on who could replace Assad were he to step aside within the framework of a Yemen-style political transition in which the president was replaced by a deputy for an interim period.
"Assad is a tyrant. The quicker he leaves the better, but at the same time a government must have a successor, so there are extremely detailed and difficult discussions taking place," he said.
"The Russians today are not attached to Assad, but what they are sensitive about is that if Assad is removed from power who will we have and that is the discussion," he said.