Friday 23 February 2018

Syrian leadership and opposition to meet for first time

John Heilprin Geneva

SYRIA'S government and opposition will meet for the first time in an attempt to halt the nearly three-year civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people, the United Nations said yesterday.

Previous attempts to bring the two sides together have failed, mainly because of disputes over who should represent the opposition and the government, Syrian President Bashar Assad's future role in the country, and whether Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers should be at the table.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the government and opposition to help the January 22 conference in Geneva succeed by taking steps to stop the violence, provide access for humanitarian aid, release detainees, and help hundreds of thousands of displaced people return home.

"We go with a clear understanding: the Geneva conference is the vehicle for a peaceful transition that fulfills the legitimate aspirations of all the Syrian people for freedom and dignity, and which guarantees safety and protection to all communities in Syria," he told reporters at UN headquarters.

He said a key goal would be the establishment of a transitional government with powers over military and security.

A full list of participants has not yet been decided on.

The UN did not specify who will be representing Syria's opposition at the talks, but Britain's foreign secretary said the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, will participate.

Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the group, said it had not yet decided who it would send, but remained dead set against inviting Iran to the talks.

Iran, a staunch supporter of Assad, has given him financial support and directed one of its proxies, Lebanon's Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group, to fight alongside Assad's troops.

Irish Independent

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