Syrian peace talks unlikely to begin Friday, opposition says

GENEVA -- A Syrian opposition figure said Thursday that indirect peace talks between the government and opposition are unlikely to begin on Friday for "technical reasons," adding that his group has named a second opposition list to be part of the talks.

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One of the major stumbling blocks ahead of peace talks scheduled to begin in Geneva Friday has been determining which groups from Syria's opposition will be allowed a seat at the negotiating table.

Haitham Manna, co-president of the Arab and Kurdish group known as the Syrian Democratic Council, told The Associated Press in the Swiss city of Lausanne that his group and their allies have named their own list of opposition participants, separate from the list named in Saudi Arabia, a move that is likely to anger the Saudi-backed opposition.

"We finished our list and we have what we can call the Democratic Secular Syrian list," Manna said without elaborating what groups it includes and whether the main Kurdish faction in Syria, the Democratic Union Party or PYD, is part of it. Turkey is strongly opposed to the PYD participating in the talks. He said the list includes 15 "essential" members and 15 others as supporting team.

Manna had said earlier he would boycott the talks if the PYD is not taking part.

Asked Thursday whether the talks would kick off Friday, as envisioned by the UN Syria envoy, Manna said: "I don't think so, for technical reasons now it's impossible." He did not elaborate.

The Saudi-backed opposition bloc known as the Higher Negotiating Committee, which will be the main bloc in the talks, says that before it participates in the Geneva talks the government should stop bombardments and allow humanitarian access to besieged rebel-held areas.

One Syrian opposition figure whose group is part of the Saudi-backed list said "it will be very difficult to hold the talks on Friday," adding that many opposition figures still haven't obtained visas or made reservations to come to Geneva. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Saudi-backed list is still holding meetings in Saudi Arabia and is expected to announce Thursday whether they will participate or not. On Wednesday, they said they were unlikely to attend Geneva peace talks this week unless progress is made toward lifting sieges in the country and other conditions are met, adding that they were awaiting clarifications from UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura.

Another opposition figure, Ahmad Ramadan, said the opposition's meetings in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, were "ongoing" and they are still waiting for a reply from the UN chief on a letter they sent him a day earlier asking the Security Council to implement its own resolutions with regards to halting bombardment of civilian areas and lifting blockades on besieged areas.

"There is a decision to participate in any negotiations that might alleviate Syrian suffering, but we are asking for clarifications about our concerns," Ramadan said. "We expect there to be at least a mechanism for implementing UN Security Council clauses that have to do with humanitarian issues."

"If the UN is unable to implement a resolution that 15 countries voted on unanimously, how do they expect to move the peace process forward?" he asked.

Ramadan added that he did not expect any of the Saudi-backed opposition people to be in Geneva by Friday, saying nobody is on their way. "Everyone is still waiting," he said.

Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Bassam Hatoum in Lausanne, Switzerland contributed to this report



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