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France backtracks on arming Syria's rebels

French President Francoise Hollande says 'no guarantee' weapons to Syria's rebels will end up in the wrong hands.

Last Modified: 29 Mar 2013 02:18
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France's President Francois Hollande had been pressing for a relaxation of an arms embargo on Syria Reuters]

France will uphold the EU embargo on weapon deliveries for Syrian rebels after all, changing course from just two weeks ago, according to comments by President Francois Hollande.

France would have to be convinced that the weapons would not fall into the hands of terrorists, Hollande said in an interview with France 2.

"At the moment, we do not have this guarantee," Hollande said.

France and Britain are both pressing for the relaxation of an arms embargo on Syria so that arms can flow to outgunned rebels waging a two-year-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The embargo expires on June 1 and both countries say it should be allowed to lapse. But Hollande said that before arms were delivered to Syria, guarantees were needed they would not fall into the hands of radical fighters.

"We will not do it as long as we cannot be certain that there is complete control of the situation by the opposition," Hollande said.

'Sole legitimate representative'

A Cairo-based coalition of opposition groups in exile named the Syrian National Council as the sole legitimate representative for rebels fighting Assad's government forces.

But the group has suffered internal divisions and is said to have only limited control over rebels on the ground in Syria.

Western countries are concerned that delivering weapons to Syria will backfire if radical groups capture them and gain a military edge over other rebel factions.

However, the Free Syrian Army recognised by foreign powers is sorely lacking means to fight back against Assad's warplanes, and has warned it could lose ground unless allies provide anti-aircraft guns and other equipment.

Both France and Britain tried in vain to convince other EU leaders to relax the embargo at a European Council meeting last week, and EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the issue further this weekend.

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