Friday, January 29

Geneva talks on Syria start today without Riyadh crew present thank God

Now that's my idea of a productive negotiation: when your enemies don't show. Why didn't they show?  Because they're sulking. Unfortunately they're not sulking so much they can't bear to yap whine to the press. And by the way, Mr Mroue, they're not the "main" opposition, they're the opposition backed by Riyadh. But before his report, filed today for AP, I want to go back to an earlier one:

Saudi-backed Syria rebels boycott Geneva talks
Long-awaited negotiations to end the five-year war in Syria begin in Geneva today
Michael Jansen in Geneva

January 29, 2016
The Irish Times

The Saudi-backed Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee yesterday decided to boycott today’s long-awaited opening of talks in Geneva to end the five-year war in Syria.

The talks could go ahead with independent opposition groups, but the effort to reach a negotiated solution would be seriously weakened without the Saudi-formed committee, which claims to represent more than 100 groups.

Aware that continuing the conflict is not an option due to the flood of Syrian refugees entering Europe and the threat of extremist attacks, the US, France, Britain and Germany had urged the committee to dispatch its negotiators.

Earlier it had been reported that the committee would send a small representation, headed by chairman Riad Hijab, for “pre-talks” on implementing demands for an end to bombardments, sieges and blockades of insurgent-held areas in the war-torn country.

Impossible talks

These committee’s demands were submitted to UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon as conditions for the participation of the negotiating team. But they have been impossible to carry out without talks between the government and armed groups, some supported by Saudi ArabiaQatarTurkey and western powers.

The Riyadh negotiating team is led by a defected air force general, Asaad al-Zoubi, an officer of the Southern Command alliance, and Mahmoud Alloushfrom the Saudi-founded Army of Islam. The latter is regarded as a “terrorist” group by the Syrian government and its allies Russia and Iran.

The committee’s boycott was announced after UN envoy Staffan de Mistura’s spokeswoman denied reports that the talks would be postponed and the government delegation, headed by UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, had left Damascus for Geneva.

The Syrian government had agreed to attend talks when proposed for January 25th by the UN, the US and Russia. Syrian Democratic Council spokesmanHaytham Manna announced that 15 members of independent secular opposition groups and 16 advisers were in Geneva and ready to take part.

He reiterated that he would not attend because the leaders of his Kurdish partners have been excluded at the insistence of Turkey, which claims they are associated with Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy.

In a an attempt to secure the participation of the Saudi- backed opposition, Mr de Mistura altered the status of invitees and the format of the talks.

On Monday he had declared they would not only begin today for invitees ready to attend, but would also include a range of opposition factions, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2254.

Mr de Mistura said participation was unconditional, dismissing the demands of the High Negotiations Committee, which also claims to be the sole representative of the opposition.

Separate rooms

He had said the opposition would be inclusive and separate rooms would be allocated for the government delegation, the Riyadh team, independents and civil society activists and women, indicating that they would be treated equally. He and his aides would shuttle among these participants.

However, the Riyadh faction – which also has US and European backing – had emerged as the lead opposition group while independents, civil society activists and women had been relegated to the status of advisers.

In anticipation of the talks, Mr de Mistura broadcast a message in Arabic to the Syrian people pledging to return “stability and peace and dignity” to Syria.

“Five years of this conflict have been too much,” he said. “The horror is in front of everyone’s eyes . . . You have seen enough conferences. This one cannot fail.”

He called upon Syrians to make participants hear their cries for an end to war.


Jan. 29, 2016, at 8:52 a.m.
The Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — A U.N. 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 U.N. chief on the implementation of Security Council resolutions related to humanitarian issues.

U.N. 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 U.N. Bashar Jaafari, 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 U.N.'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 U.N. 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.

The main Syrian opposition group, known as the Higher Negotiating 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 U.N. 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 U.N. 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 U.N. 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.


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