UN hosted Syria peace talks begin in Geneva

GENEVA -- Indirect peace talks aimed at resolving Syria's five-year conflict began Friday at the UN headquarters in Geneva, without the participation of the main opposition group.

See Full Article

The talks are the first since two rounds of negotiations collapsed in 2014. Syria's conflict has killed more than 250,000 people, displaced millions and sent hundreds of thousands as refugees to Europe.

The first meeting was between the UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura and a government delegation headed by the country's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja'afari. A UN spokesman said that he would later meet with other delegates, including civil society representatives.

The main opposition delegation has said it will not participate without an end to the bombardment of civilians by Russian and government forces and a lifting of sieges in rebel-held areas.

The meetings 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 boycott is a blow to the UN's attempt to bring representatives of President Bashar Assad's government and his opponents together for talks on ending the conflict. 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."

Disputes are ongoing over which opposition parties will attend, with the main opposition group -- known as the Higher Negotiating Committee, or HNC-- coming under criticism for including the militant Army of Islam group that controls wide areas near the Syrian capital, 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 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 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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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."

"We tell them the reason to come here is not to hand the Assad regime a propaganda victory," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the opposition.

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 Qaeda's branch in Syria known as the Nusra Front and using an Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.

De Mistura said Thursday that Geneva peace talks are an opportunity not to be missed.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Alzheimer's patient allowed to leave secure unit with man once accused of defrauding her

    Canada News CBC News
    Secure units at nursing homes are meant to keep patients with dementia in, but a Newfoundland family is now questioning who is responsible for keeping others out. Two days before Christmas, 81-year-old Ida Connors — who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease — was taken from the secure unit of a long-term care home in St. Source
  • Edward Snowden not pardoned, but can stay in Russia for foreseeable future

    World News CBC News
    Russian authorities have extended a residence permit for U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked thousands of secret documents from the National Security Agency. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a post on Facebook late Tuesday that Snowden's residence permit has been extended for "a couple of years. Source
  • Inaugural speech is Trump's time to rise to the moment

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Tradition suggests it's time for Donald Trump to set aside the say-anything speaking style and rise to the inaugural moment. But bucking tradition, or ignoring it altogether, is what got Donald Trump to his inaugural moment. Source
  • Bank of Canada expected to stand firm on rates ahead of Trump presidency

    Canada News CBC News
    The Bank of Canada is widely expected to keep its key interest rate at 0.5 per cent this morning in its first interest rate decision of 2017 — but uncertainty over the future of the global economy after the inauguration of Donald Trump will likely complicate the central bank's ability to make policy decisions in the near future. Source
  • Ontario's 'ban' on carding isn't really a ban at all

    Canada News CBC News
    The new year brought with it a new ban on carding in Ontario. Or rather, a "ban." While celebrated by some as the end of the discriminatory practice in the province, in reality, Ontario's ban on carding isn't really a "ban" at all. Source
  • 'We are relaxed because we are winning again': Russia welcomes an unconventional Trump

    World News CBC News
    Sergey Karaganov smiles cagily as he describes Russian President Vladimir Putin's strengthened negotiating position. "We are relaxed because we are winning again." The honorary head of Russia's influential Council on Foreign and Defence Policy says at this juncture, "most Russians are laughing — some with disgust, some with sympathy — at America's political scene. Source
  • Trump the 'first step' toward identity politics: Richard Spencer

    World News CBC News
    Count Richard Spencer among the millions of Americans who will be thrilled to watch Donald Trump take the oath of office Friday. Spencer is no ordinary Trump supporter. He is a leader of the alt-right, a movement that rejects mainstream conservatism and promotes white nationalism — and, say many, is now emboldened by Trump's win. Source
  • Trump gives himself starring role as a job creator, but critics call it a stretch

    World News CBC News
    President-elect Donald Trump hasn't even started his new job yet. But he's already been busy creating lots of jobs, particularly in the auto sector. At least that's what his tweets imply. Just yesterday, he took to Twitter to boast about "all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S. Source
  • Were opportunities for clues from MH370 debris missed?

    World News CTV News
    SYDNEY, Australia -- Three nations shelled out around $160 million and years' worth of work on the underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The result: No plane. The only tangible -- and arguably most important -- clues into what happened to the aircraft have come courtesy of ordinary citizens, who bore the costs themselves. Source
  • Senator wants inquiry after charges stayed against two women in Alberta killing

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- A senator is calling for a public inquiry after Alberta prosecutors stayed charges against a second woman accused in a murder case. Kim Pate says an inquiry is needed to look at the actions of police and the Crown in taking Wendy Scott and Connie Oakes to court. Source