Libya helps bankroll Syrian opposition
By Borzou Daragahi in Cairo
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The top financier of the Syrian opposition is no Arabian Peninsula oil kingdom or cloak-and-dagger western spy outfit, but struggling, war-ravaged Libya, which is itself recovering from a devastating civil conflict.
According to a budget released by the Syrian National Council and posted to its website late on Sunday, the Libyan government contributed $20.3m of the $40.4m that the opposition umbrella group has amassed since its creation in August 2011.
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Qatar gave $15m while the United Arab Emirates contributed $5m, according to the document.
Unlike Qatar and the UAE, which are absolute monarchies, Libya has embarked on a rocky path towards democracy and shares an ideological vision with Syrian revolutionaries.
Oil-rich Libya has emerged as one of the Syrian uprising’s firmest and earliest backers. Perhaps dozens if not hundreds of veterans of the Nato-backed rebel insurgency against Colonel Muammer Gaddafi have travelled to Syria to fight against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Its interim foreign minister said earlier this year that his governmentcould not prevent or condemn Libyans heading to Syria to fight.
The Libyan government was among the first Arab nations to sever ties with the regime in Damascus. But some Libyans question the expenditure, especially in light of questions about the violent and extreme behaviour of some armed Syrian opposition groups.
“I don’t think we have the legitimacy to pay this money and what is it for? Are we paying money to al-Qaeda or to the rebels in Syria?” said Abdel-Hamid el-Jadi, an independent analyst and fiscal monitor in Tripoli. “This is the Libyan people’s money. Yes, revolution is fine. But we have al-Qaeda in Syria. That’s not revolution.”
The SNC’s publication of its budget appeared aimed at boosting its credibility by being transparent over its financing. According to the document, the SNC still has about $10.7m in the bank.
The report breaks down expenditures by both category and geography. According to the six-page document, 11 per cent of the money collected has been spent on overheads, with the rest devoted to aiding Syrians inside the country or refugees in neighbouring states.
Roughly 7 per cent of the funds, or about $2.8m, has been allocated to the Free Syrian Army. About $290,000 has been spent on hotels for SNC representatives during travels abroad. The organisation spent about $160,000 on relief efforts for the two mostly ethnic Kurdish provinces of northwest Syria.
The release of the budget report comes as the organisation faces international pressure to join a more broad-based body of the Syrian opposition, effectively diluting its influence. Last week, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton called for a new body to better represent groups on the ground inside Syria.
In an apparent attempt to shore up its status ahead of a meeting later this week to discuss the US-backed proposals, the SNC announced on Monday that it would expand its membership to include more people from inside Syria.
Syria itself was shaken by another day of heavy violence on Monday. A suicide bomber killed at least 50 soldiers in the central province of Hama, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group. It said the attacker was from the al Nasra Front, an extremist Islamist group which is playing an increasingly high profile role in the fight against regime forces.
At least 20 rebels were killed during aerial bombardment of a town in Idlib, the rights group said, while five civilians were killed when a rocket fell on a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, amid clashes and bombardments in the nearby Hajar al Aswad neighbourhood.
Additional reporting by Abigail Fielding-Smith in Beirut
يسمح بنقل أو استخدام المواد المنشورة بشرط ذكر المصدر أي نوع من التعدي يعرض صاحبه للمسائلة القانونية