UN envoy to meet Syrian opposition after early stumble

GENEVA -- UN envoy Staffan de Mistura will meet with the Syrian opposition but is not expected to launch indirect talks with the government as hoped on Monday.

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De Mistura had planned to meet with a government delegation Monday morning before meeting with the opposition, but the earlier meeting was postponed, his spokeswoman Khawla Mattar said.

The envoy had officially met with the government delegation on Friday but only paid a courtesy visit to the opposition on Sunday. Mattar said the Monday morning meeting would be rescheduled because de Mistura wanted to hold an official meeting with the opposition before launching the indirect talks.

The talks in Geneva are aimed at ending a five-year conflict that has killed 250,000 people and displaced millions, leaving vast swaths of the country in ruins.

De Mistura has decided that these will be "proximity talks," rather than face-to-face sessions, meaning that he plans to keep the delegations in separate rooms and shuttle between them. He has tamped down expectations by saying he expects talks to last for six months.

Earlier in the day, de Mistura's office said his meeting with the government delegation planned for Monday morning has been rescheduled.

The opposition delegation, known as the High Negotiations Committee, or HNC, said it will meet de Mistura in his office Monday afternoon after receiving reassurances from several countries as well as the UN envoy regarding sieges on rebel-held areas and bombardment of civilians.

Opposition figures have said that they will only go to the UN headquarters in Geneva, where the talks will take place, once the bombardment by Russians and Syrian warplanes stops and aid is allowed to enter besieged rebel-held areas.

"We have come to Geneva to seek relief for our people by insisting UN Security Council resolution 2254 is implemented, which means humanitarian relief, the lifting of sieges, and the end of attacks on civilians," spokesman Salem al-Mislet said in a statement.

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

Another HNC member told The Associated Press that they will give de Mistura "a roadmap for the implementation of humanitarian demands." Farah Atassi said the top priority should be to stop the "unprecedented bombardment by the Syrian regime yesterday by dropping 52 barrel bombs on Moadamiyeh."

She was referring to a besieged suburb of the capital Damascus that opposition activists say was subjected to intense bombardment on Sunday.

The UN human rights chief, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, meanwhile told reporters in Geneva he hopes that peace talks "will lead to the end of all these horrific abuses - human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law - that we are all too familiar with."

Al-Hussein added that the UN has a principled position that "no amnesties should be considered" for those suspected of having committed crimes against humanity or war crimes.

Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten and Bassam Hatoum contributed to this report


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