U.S. Equipment, Training Reaching Syrian Opposition

Japanese journalist Mika Yamamoto was killed in Aleppo. The group Reporters Without Borders says Syria is now the most dangerous assignment for war reporters.

By Stephen Kaufman
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
August 21, 2012

Along with giving $82 million in humanitarian assistance to Syrians, the U.S. government is also providing equipment and training to some Syrian activists as part of its pledge to give nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters August 21 that the United States has provided more than 900 sets of communications gear to groups and individuals inside Syria.

The State Department has $25 million in nonlethal assistance that it can use for training purposes, and Nuland said “a broad cross section of activists” inside Syria and in neighboring countries is benefiting from an “extremely active” U.S. training effort that is focused on Syrians who have not left their country.

“We are doing training on free media, countering the government’s circumvention technology, legal and justice and accountability issues, and how to deal with the crimes that have been committed during this conflict, programs for student activists who are encouraging peaceful protest on the university campuses, [and] programs for women,” Nuland said.

She added that the State Department has been working for years with Syrians and others on ways to counter Internet censorship, as well as supporting Syrian human rights and justice programs.

Syrian opposition groups in Cairo have been preparing for the day when Bashar al-Assad’s regime falls, and Nuland said the Obama administration has welcomed recent efforts such as putting forward a bill of rights for a future Syria and a detailed transition plan that would lead to elections.

The opposition is “trying to work up an implementing committee for those plans that would begin to operate like a potential future transitional government,” and the process is “very much a consultation among a broad cross section of opposition groups about how they take this work forward,” she said.

The opposition is also working to identify potential leaders both inside and outside of the country who would be “the kind of people who might be good players in a transitional government,” she said.

U.S. officials have said the Obama administration wants all of Syria’s ethnic and religious groups to participate in Syria’s transition. Nuland said, “We are seeing Syrians from across the spectrum planning for the new day … and working better together,” including Sunnis, Alawis, Druze, Christians and Kurds.

She also said code-of-conduct statements issued by Syrian opposition forces and local coordinating councils that speak against reprisals and argue for a Syria for all Syrians are “obviously something that we are strongly encouraging.”

Nuland said it will be very difficult to achieve a transition until the violence stops, but “there are groups inside and outside Syria beginning to plan for that day-after and beginning to plan for how they might quickly stand up at least that first stage of transition so that we could … move on when Assad goes, because he will go.”

JAPANESE JOURNALIST KILLED IN ALEPPO

Nuland also offered condolences to the family of Japanese journalist Mika Yamamoto, who was killed August 20 while she was traveling with Syrian opposition forces in Aleppo, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Yamamoto, who worked for the Tokyo-based Japan Press, was caught in gunfire, the Foreign Ministry said.

Nuland also said the U.S. government had lost contact with two stringers reporting for the Alhurra television network who had reportedly been traveling with Yamamoto.

In an August 21 interview with the Voice of America, Reporters Without Borders spokeswoman Soazig Dollet said five foreign journalists have been killed since the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, and that Syria “is now the most dangerous place for war reporter[s] in the world.”

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