UN announces formal start to Syrian peace talks in Geneva

UN says Syrian regime “agree in principle” over opposition’s demands to allow aid deliveries into Syrian besieged towns during peace talks in Geneva

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

UN mediator for Syria de Mistura attends a news conference after a meeting with the Syrian HNC during peace talks in Geneva.

The UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura, mediating peace talks between the regime and opposition groups fighting in Syria, has formally declared the beginning of indirect negotiations, saying talks gained a small measure of momentum at the UN offices in Geneva on Monday.

The UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is trying to keep peace talks alive and condone world powers who helped set the stage for the negotiations to do more to bring about a ceasefire in the five-year Syrian civil war.

De Mistura said, the arrival of delegation from the main Syrian opposition group, the High Negotiation Committee (HNC), at the UN offices in Geneva was enough to allow him to declare the formal start of the talks.

"We are actually listening with attention to the concerns of the HNC, and we are going to tomorrow discuss and listen to the concerns of the government," de Mistura told reporters after Monday's meeting.  

However, HNC spokesman Salem al-Mislet’s remarks highlighted how the two sides are far apart and how many challenges de Mistura will have to overcome.

Al-Mislet also harshly criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the ongoing air strikes campaign in Syria for supporting regime President Bashar Assad. Regime forces have taken dozens of towns and villages in recent weeks with the support of Russian air strikes.  

"The regime is the one killing the Syrian people," al-Mislet said when asked by a reporter working for a Russian media outlet about the participation of a representative of the militant Army of Islam group that is in the opposition's delegation. "The regime in Russia will produce a new Hitler, and we are suffering from another Hitler in Syria."

The UN humanitarian office said the Syrian government approved a request on Monday to deliver more humanitarian aids to three besieged towns – Madaya, Foua and Kfarya in which hundreds of civilians are suffering from malnutrition and some have starved to death. Regime forces blocked aid deliveries until about three weeks ago when trucks from the UN and other humanitarian organisations were permitted to enter the towns.

De Mistura took the opposition’s concerns into consideration and said he planned to hold a new meeting with government representatives on Tuesday morning, before meeting with the HNC again in the afternoon. He said his first aim is to keep the talks going, and his overall goal is to help promote concrete progress for the people of Syria.

He also tried to set a new perspective indicating that talks should be "different" to previous talks that failed in 2014.

De Mistura also called on world powers, United States and Russia, that held a key meeting in Vienna in November that helped pave way for the Geneva talks: He said they had pledged to back efforts to stop the Syrian conflict.  

"What I am simply saying is reminding the ISSG members of what they actually indicated: That when the actual talks would start, they themselves would start helping in ensuring that there would be a discussion of an overall ceasefire in the Syrian conflict," he said.

The Geneva talks are aimed at ending a five-year conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people and displaced millions, causing vast swathes of the country to be in ruins and fostering territorial gains of DAESH, which is considered a terrorist group and was not invited. The talks were slow at the beginning, mainly because of disputes over which opposition groups can take part and opposition demands that the regime allow aids into besieged rebel-held areas and stop its bombardments of civilians before negotiations start.   

TRTWorld, AP