Syrian Opposition to Attend Geneva Peace Talks

Syrian Opposition to Attend Geneva Peace Talks Syrian Opposition to Attend Geneva Peace Talks

Syria’s main opposition group agreed to travel to Geneva, where the United Nations on Friday opened peace talks to end the country’s five-year-old war, but said it wanted to discuss humanitarian issues before engaging in political negotiations.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura had invited the Syrian government and an opposition umbrella group to Geneva for “proximity talks”, in which they would meet in separate rooms.

Until the last minute, the opposition High Negotiations Committee had refused to go. The group, which includes both armed and political opponents of Syrian President Basahr al-Assad, had insisted it wanted an end to airstrikes and sieges of towns and the release of detainees before talks could start.

Late on Friday, the HNC said it was going to Geneva, having received guarantees that its demands, outlined in a UN Security Council resolution last month, would be met, but it made clear its engagement in the process would initially be limited.

“The HNC will go to Geneva tomorrow to discuss these humanitarian issues which will pave the way into the political process of negotiations,” spokesman Salim al-Muslat told the Arabic news channel al-Arabiya al-Hadath.

The HNC said it had drawn up a list of 3,000 Syrian women and children in government prisons who should be released.

  Sunday Meeting

De Mistura opened the talks on Friday by meeting the Syrian government delegation. He said that while he had not yet received formal notice that the HNC would attend, he expected to meet its delegation on Sunday.

“They’ve raised an important point of their concern, they would like to see a gesture from the government authorities regarding some kind of improvement for the people of Syria during the talks, for instance release of prisoners, or some lifting of sieges,” de Mistura said.

But he added this was a human rights point and “not even an issue to negotiate”, and had strongly suggested the best way to get such measures implemented would be to start negotiating in Geneva, by proxy or directly.

US Secretary of State John Kerry had made a major push to get the HNC delegation to Geneva, and the group said he had contacted it by phone to urge it to attend.

“Secretary Kerry has been in touch with all of his counterparts, including this morning with (Russian Foreign Minister) Sergey Lavrov ... and with others, trying to find a way, a formula, in which we can urge the delegation or some version of the delegation to show up here,” a senior US official said.

The Syrian government delegation, headed by United Nations ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, arrived at the talks on Friday afternoon but made no statement.

Another major force, the Kurds who control much of northeast Syria and have proven one of the few groups capable of winning territory from the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group, were excluded from the talks after Turkey demanded they be kept away. The Kurds say their absence means the talks are doomed.

International diplomacy has so far seen only failures in a five-year-old conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes while drawing in regional states and global powers.

De Mistura’s two predecessors both quit in apparent frustration after staging failed peace conferences.

Since the last talks collapsed in 2014, IS fighters surged across Syria and Iraq declaring a “caliphate”, the United States and its European and Arab allies launched airstrikes against them, and Russia joined in last year with a separate air campaign to support Syrian Army.