Lord Ashdown of Great Britain, the former Liberal Democrat leader, spoke out against arming Syria’s rebels and called for pressure to be put on Qatar and Saudi Arabia to cut off funding for arms.
“They do not need arms. It is an unchallenged figure that 3,500 tons of arms have been shipped in by way of Croatia with the assistance of the CIA, funded by the Saudis, funded by the Qataris, going almost exclusively to the more jihadist groups,” the former international high representative for Bosnia said in a debate.
“I know where those weapons are coming from. They are the weapons left over from the Bosnian war. They are being shipped out in large measure through Croatian ports and airports and I can tell you they are making vast sums for corrupt forces in the Balkans.”
Lord Ashdown described the rebels as “not a fit and proper collection of people for us to be providing arms to”.
Britain and France favour arming the rebels, while in a change of policy Washington recently announed it would supply direct miltiary aid to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. Officials have said they would select “moderate rebels” for assistance.
Lord Ashdown said he knew of “no occasion” when a route to peace was to provide more weapons.
He said Syria was the “front line in a wider conflict” involving an attempt to build up a radicalised jihadist Sunni population to fight a war against the Shia.
“This is about the preparations some are deliberately making to have a wider religious conflict,” he said.
He said there was a “really serious diplomatic route” to take to remove the “steam” out of the conflict.
“If it is the case that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are today funding the very jihadists against which we are fighting, why are we not using international pressure, the United States, the European Union, to persuade Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop, to prevent this?” he said.
“It seems to me we should not stumble towards arms when there is diplomacy still to be played out.”