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French FM: Sanctions Against Syria Biting

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe (L) and Syrian Auditing Consultant Maria Chatti attend an international conference of a working group monitoring sanctions against the Syrian regime in Paris, April 17, 2012

The French foreign minister said sanctions against Damascus are working and have cut Syria's financial reserves in half. Alain Juppe made the remarks in Paris to the "Friends of Syria" contact group aimed at helping the Syrian opposition and reinforcing sanctions against the government and leaders.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said it is critical to closely monitor what he called "maneuvers" by Syrian authorities to escape the increasingly painful bite of international sanctions.

Speaking at the start of a Paris meeting of Arab and Western diplomats supporting the opposition, Juppe said not only are sanctions an efficient instrument to deprive the Syrian government of goods and resources it uses to finance militias, but they also send a strong political message.

The international community has slapped an array of ever-tougher sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They include an embargo against oil exports, measures against the country's financial and banking sectors, and asset freezes and travel bans against a score of individuals, including Mr. Assad and his wife. Juppe said the sanctions appear to have cut Syria's finances in half.

Both Arab League and European participants at the Paris working group want to keep up the pressure against Syrian authorities - even as U.N. observers monitor a shaky cease-fire.

Juppe said the international community will be firm in demanding the observers have free movement in Syria to ensure the cease-fire is sticking. But he said countries must also keep up the pressure on Damascus by reinforcing existing sanctions.

Violence has continued since the cease-fire came into force last Thursday, notably in the Syrian city of Homs.

Russia on Tuesday accused both the Syrian government and the opposition of undermining the cease-fire.

The Paris meeting coincides with the anniversary of Syria's 1946 independence from France. French stars and human rights activists are organizing a public event to mark the day - and to express their support for the Syrian people.