UN envoy to continue Syria talks despite opposition walkout

UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura says Syria peace talks should go on despite main opposition walkout

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura attends a news conference after a round of meetings during Syria Peace talks at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, April 22, 2016.

The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura said Syria peace talks should go on despite a walkout by the main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) in protest against the worsening situation on the ground.

"We cannot let this drop. We have to renew the ceasefire, we have to accelerate humanitarian aid and we are going to ask the countries which are the co-sponsors to meet" de Mistura said on Thursday night.

De Mistura dismissed the opposition's departure as "diplomatic posturing" and expects the delegation to return to the negotiating table. The opposition declared a "pause" this week because of a surge in fighting and too little movement from the government side on freeing detainees or allowing in aid.

The opposition's coordinator at the Geneva talks, Riad Hijab, said earlier it was unacceptable for talks to go on if the regime and its allies pushed on with sieges and bombing civilian areas.

"We asked for the postponement of talks, only a postponement until the conditions are right," Mohammad al Aboud, a member of the negotiating team said.

Opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush said, "We say to Ja'afari [negotiator of the regime], if he wants a real national unity government, first he must release the 10,000 women in his prisons, and the tens of thousands more imprisoned there."

"And [he must] stop the massacres he is committing every day, so he can be a human with an ounce of nationalism. Then maybe the negotiations will resume."

The HNC later confirmed the decision in a statement, saying a pause would be "a chance ... to respond to the core subject of forming a governing body that has no role for Assad."

The HNC emphasised that it was not walking out of the talks, the first attempt to negotiate a way out of the five-year-old conflict in two years; a diplomat said they wanted the UN to publicly criticise the regime.

Although world and regional powers sponsor the fragile cessation of hostilities that came into effect on Feb 27, it was left in scraps as the regime continued with air strikes and attacks over the past few weeks in civilian hotspots like Aleppo, Latakia and other areas.

In an interview with RTS on Thursday, De Mistura said around 400,000 people have been killed in Syria's five-year civil war. 

De Mistura admitted that Assad’s “interest is to try to stay in power,” as he has shown no effort to drop the regime.

"Despite the negotiating tension, they all agree - all of them - that there must be a transition, that means a radical change," he said.

The war was tilted in Assad's favour late last year by Russia's intervention, supported on the ground by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who have been bolstered recently by the arrival of members of Iran's regular army.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the regime of Bashar al Assad cracked down on pro-democracy protests.

Endorsed by the UN Security Council, the Geneva peace talks marked the most serious effort yet to resolve the war, but failed to make progress on political issues, with no sign of compromise over the question of Assad's future.

TRTWorld, Reuters