UN Syria envoy to start talks in Geneva without opposition

GENEVA -- A UN official said Syrian peace talks will begin in Geneva as planned Friday, despite an ongoing boycott by the main Syrian opposition group which continues to stay away pending assurances from the UN chief on the implementation of Security Council resolutions related to humanitarian issues.

See Full Article

UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura will begin by meeting the government's delegation, which is headed by the country's ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja'afari, according to de Mistura's spokeswoman Khawla Mattar. She said he would later meet other participants in the talks, including civil society representatives.

The opposition boycott is a blow to the UN's first attempt in two years to bring representatives of President Bashar Assad's government and his opponents together for talks on ending the devastating five-year war. On the eve of the talks, de Mistura appealed to Syrians to make concessions and described the talks as "an opportunity not to be missed."

The indirect talks are part of a process outlined in a UN resolution last month that envisages an 18-month timetable for a political transition in Syria, including the drafting of a new constitution and elections.

The opposition is facing ongoing disputes over which parties will attend and has come under criticism for including the militant Army of Islam group that controls wide areas near Damascus and is considered a terrorist organization by the Syrian government and Russia.

Earlier on Friday UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi reflected the sense of chaos and confusion surrounding the beginning of peace negotiations when he told reporters at a briefing that "I don't have a time, I don't have the exact location, and I can't tell you anything about the delegation."

The main Syrian opposition group, known as the Higher Negotiations Committee, or HNC, said it was still waiting for an official response from the United Nations about a list of concerns.

Ahmad Ramadan, a senior official with the Syrian National Coalition, which is part of the HNC, said the opposition will boycott the talks until it receives assurances on the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on lifting the sieges on rebel held areas and halting bombardment of civilians in Syria.

"There cannot be any negotiations as long as the humanitarian issues have not been discussed or implemented," he said.

Basma Kodmani, a member of the opposition's negotiating team, said the HNC is now studying whether their delegation will come to Geneva to raise these concerns with the UN officials or stay in Saudi Arabia where they can raise them from a distance.

Ramadan said that de Mistura sent a letter on Thursday to the head of the HNC, Riad Hijab, which was deemed unsatisfactory. He and another opposition figure, Khaled Nasser, said the UN envoy wrote that the opposition's demands were reasonable and that humanitarian issues should be "above negotiations," but that he was powerless to implement them himself, adding that negotiations were the best way to force everyone to implement those resolutions.

In Syria, the official Tishrin newspaper boasted that the no-show by the Saudi and Turkey-backed opposition in Geneva "reflects the collective flight of terrorist groups backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey from the political table, following their collapses on the battlefield."

"In light of their losses, the opposition abroad, especially in Riyadh, has chosen to run away" as a face-saving measure, it said in an editorial. The paper was speaking about recent victories by government forces on the offensive under the cover of Russian airstrikes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the moderate opposition was not attending the talks because Russia continues to bomb opposition-held areas in Syria, and that it is a "betrayal" to the moderate opposition to ask them to attend without a cease-fire.

"The truth behind their decision not to join is unfortunately the fact that some promises were not fulfilled," he said in Istanbul.

"Russia's constant bombing of the opposition regions is causing serious distress within the opposition. For them to attend (Geneva) without a cease-fire is ... a betrayal for those who are at the front," he added.

Opposition figures from outside the HNC are in Geneva but they were invited as advisers. The HNC is supposed to be the main opposition group in the talks.

But a leading Syrian opposition figure who is not part of the HNC and is currently in Geneva hinted that his team will be part of the talks as a second opposition delegation.

"The presence of three delegations expresses the will of the (UN) Security Council who called for a delegation representing all parties of the opposition," former Syrian deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Jamil added that in their talks with the government the priority will be to allow aid into besieged areas and that all Syrians unite to "fight the terrorism represented by Nusra and Daesh." He was referring to al-Qaida's branch in Syria known as the Nusra Front and using an Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.

On Thursday, Hijab told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV that they might come to Geneva but will not enter the negotiations rooms unless their demands are met.

"Those who cannot achieve humanitarian demands of the Syrian people will not be able to achieve political transition in Syria," Hijab said.

A Western diplomat in close contact with the SNC said in Geneva that "their (HNC) main message to us has been while we are under sustained attack by Russia and the regime and other states and militants and other groups we cannot justify to Syrians why we are going."

"They understand the risk to not attending any process which has international support or oversight, but at the same time they are acutely aware of the risk of going to negotiations which is not on terms favourable to them or their communities," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the opposition.

"We tell them the reason to come here is not to hand the Assad regime a propaganda victory," he said.

De Mistura said Thursday that the peace talks he plans to launch in Geneva "in the next few days" are an opportunity not to be missed.

------

Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Patrick Brown accused of 'dirty and crooked politics' as Ontario MPP calls for investigation

    Canada News CBC News
    Ontario Conservative MPP Randy Hillier is calling for a "significant" investigation into Patrick Brown's personal finances over allegations the former Tory leader engaged in "dirty and crooked politics" that breached the province's ethics rules. Hillier, who is supporting former MPP Christine Elliott in the PC leadership race, filed a complaint with Ontario's integrity commissioner Tuesday afternoon, citing that he has "reasonable grounds" to believe Brown violated the Members' Integrity Act by…
  • With new elections near, U.S. strains to curb Russia meddling

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- The Russians are going to try it again. Even U.S. President Donald Trump's intelligence chiefs say so. But with congressional primaries just two weeks away, the U.S. has done little to aggressively combat the kinds of Russian election meddling that was recently unmasked in federal court. Source
  • Mexico investigators broaden search for 3 missing Italians

    World News CTV News
    MEXICO CITY -- Mexican investigators say they are expanding their search for three Italian men who've been missing for nearly three weeks in the western state of Jalisco. A state government statement says the search is being broadened to neighbouring Michoacan and Colima. Source
  • Pennsylvania church to bless couples toting AR-15 rifles

    World News CTV News
    A Pennsylvania-based offshoot of the Unification Church is encouraging couples to bring their AR-15 rifles with them to a commitment ceremony in the Pocono Mountains, a half-mile from an elementary school. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland said it planned the Feb. Source
  • Pence was ready to talk to North Korea but they cancelled meeting: U.S.

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Vice-President Mike Pence was all set to hold a history-making meeting with North Korean officials during the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but Kim Jong Un's government cancelled at the last minute, the Trump administration said Tuesday. Source
  • Head of Bruce McArthur investigation hints at evidence that led to arrest of alleged serial killer

    Canada News CBC News
    The Toronto police officer at the helm of the investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur said on Tuesday in a one-on-one interview with CBC's The National that if one of the victims had been reported missing even a week later than he was, McArthur might still be free. Source
  • Teen gets 6 months in prison for smuggling Bengal tiger cub

    World News CTV News
    SAN DIEGO -- A California teen has been sentenced to six months in prison for smuggling in a Bengal tiger cub from Mexico. The defence attorney for 18-year-old Luis Valencia told the court Tuesday in San Diego before his sentencing that his client had had a lapse in judgment and wanted the endangered tiger as a pet. Source
  • Oprah, Clooneys and Spielberg pledge $500K each to support student gun reform rally

    World News CBC News
    Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney and Steven Spielberg said on Tuesday they would each donate $500,000 US to the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. in support of gun control following last week's shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead. Source
  • Seen this Mustang? Alberta woman seeks mom's cherished red convertible

    Canada News CTV News
    An Alberta woman is hunting for a red 2006 Ford Mustang that she says was cherished by her mother before she died of cancer. Kirsten Spek of Medicine Hat, Alta., says that her mother Evelyn received the sports car as a gift from her husband when Spek was 16 years old. Source
  • Hike in serious rail, pipeline accidents in 2017 says safety board

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- Serious accidents involving both rail and pipeline transport of dangerous substances like crude oil and gas increased in 2017 over the previous year, according to statistics compiled by the Transportation Safety Board. Source