Søvndal: Syria has a friend in Denmark

Denmark’s participation in ‘Friends of Syria’ group has wide backing in parliament

Villy Søvndal, the foreign minister, has confirmed that Denmark will participate in a February 24 meeting in Tunisia as part of the coalition group “Friends of Syria”, telling Ritzau news service that he personally planned to attend the meeting.

The ‘Friends of Syria’ group was created after Russia and China refused to support a UN resolution that would have demanded that Syrian president Bashar Assad stop the crackdown against Syrian dissidents and implement a peace plan supported by the Arab League. The Associated Press estimates that the ongoing violence in Syria has killed at least 5,000 people.

Speaking at the European Parliament yesterday, Søvndal stressed that the EU and its partners will ratchet up the pressure on Assad and strengthen co-operation with Syrian opposition groups.

“I am horrified by the escalating violence in Syria and the situation in the country is totally unacceptable,” Søvndal said. “The international community must put strong pressure on the Syrian regime. In the EU, we are doing our part by maintaining and increasing sanctions against Syria as long as the violence continues. The EU’s message to Russia and China is clear: they should not be on the wrong side of history.”

Denmark’s participation in the ‘Friends of Syria’ group was supported by all of the national political parties with the exception of the right-wing Danske Folkeparti (DF), Politiken newspaper reported.

“Dansk Folkeparti rejects any notion of Danish involvement in Syria’s chaotic civil war, and we fully reject Denmark’s inclusion in the so-called ‘Syrian Coalition’, which includes a series of suspect Arab countries,” DF’s foreign affairs spokesperson Søren Espersen told the newspaper.

Despite Søvndal’s assertion that the ‘Friends of Syria’ would not be a military coalition, Espersen said that he did not believe that the group’s pressure on Syria would be confined to non-violent means.

“There is talk of a peace-keeping force and sending weapons downs to the rebels, and therefore it will end in a military effort,” he said.

Søvndal, however, said that the ‘Friends of Syria’ would not get involved militarily.

“I don’t think that more weapons are what is needed in Syria,” he told Politiken. “I think there is a need to gain control, particularly over the government’s use of weapons.”