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Syria opposition plans for post-Assad era

The Syrian National Council is deep into organizing an alternative to the regime of President Bashar Assad that could include those already in state institutions or even the ruling Baath Party, a senior member of the opposition group said Friday.

Bassma Kodmani, the SNC's Paris-based spokeswoman, did not exclude a role for Manaf Tlass, the Syrian general who was the first defector within Assad's inner circle but whose motives have raised suspicions.

Assad is fighting to stay atop Syria's hierarchy as he cracks down on an opposition movement — a conflict that has turned into a civil war and which activists say has killed more than 19,000 people since March 2011. The mosaic of religions and groups that make up Syrian society, from Assad's Alawite Muslim sect to the majority Sunnis, compound concerns about infighting and even the disintegration of Syria based on loyalties.

The SNC itself, with members spread across continents, is a fractious lot, and does not include all Syrian opposition activists. But it is considered by nations lending moral and material support to the rebels as the legitimate representative of those opposed to Assad.

"I think the regime has entered the process of collapse," Kodmani said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The vacuum of power at the political level should not happen, and the opposition is currently discussing very seriously and very intensively the shape a transition government should take. The objective here is to produce a Syrian plan, not anybody else's ... that produces a legitimate government."

The "two major pillars" of a transitional authority in a post-Assad era must include both political and military components, Kodmani said, and the roadmap is being prepared "in full coordination with the Free Syrian Army" battling Assad's forces. But "all sectors of society" would have a role, she said.

Civilians who have been mobilizing locally also must be part of a new structure which also would have an all-important legal component so there is "no need for personal revenge."

A video which surfaced online this week and appears to show opposition fighters summarily executing Assad loyalists underscores the need to ensure acts of revenge are not part of an already bloody scenario. "I think the legal aspect of it is major," Kodmani said.

Rebel fighters currently hold sections of Syria's largest city and commercial hub, Aleppo, and there is concern a major assault by regime forces is impending. Kodmani said Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other unnamed countries are providing weapons to the Syrian Free Army, whose ranks are being bolstered by defections by soldiers and officers in the Syrian army.

She noted there is "intense debate" within the opposition about the roadmap for a Syria without Assad, but that the process she laid out represented a majority viewpoint and was moving forward.

The army and Assad's Baath Party are elements that "need to be part of the transition" — but without leadership roles, she said.

She said the roadmap does not entail a "list of names" and is an urgent "process" due to the quickly evolving situation on the ground. She painted the outlook as favoring the opposition forces, despite Assad's continued grip on power.

Still, the SNC spokeswoman, who has played a key role in the organization since its birth, did not exclude Manaf Tlass from a post-Assad scenario and suggested his role was still being defined.

Unlike some opposition figures, Kodmani put a positive face on Tlass, the brigadier general whose defection to France in early July raised hopes, then suspicion, among the Syrian opposition. She said the SNC has had contact with him but refused to elaborate.

Tlass, a childhood friend of Assad and once a commander of the Republican Guard, slipped into obscurity for weeks before appearing on Al-Arabiya TV and again in an interview this week with the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, offering to help those opposed to Assad.

To those who suspect he wants a star role as the tide turns against the Syrian president, Tlass said, "I did not leave Syria to lead a transitional period." He offered to help unite "all the honorable people inside and outside Syria to put together a roadmap to get us out of this crisis."

Those statements have not satisfied all skeptics, but Kodmani appeared to be laying groundwork for an eventual spot for the one-time Assad loyalist.

"Manaf Tlass, he has been a decent person. He has behaved in a respectable way, and he definitely should be part of a big plan of transition and organizing the opposition," she said. "Whether he is in a position to play a leading role, I think that is a different story ... He needs to part of the opposition before he can say 'I will lead the opposition.'"

She did not disclose Tlass' whereabouts, saying only that he is traveling. "I think the terms of his participation in the process of transition are being clarified," she said.

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Follow Elaine Ganley at www.twitter.com/Elaine_Ganley.