Syria’s warring parties will resume talks in Geneva, says UN envoy
Syria’s opposing parties have agreed to resume talks in Geneva over their war-torn country as soon as travel restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic allow, UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said on Tuesday.
“As soon as the pandemic situation allows, they have agreed to come to Geneva, and as I said, they have agreed on an agenda for the next meeting,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists via videoconference from Oslo, without setting a date.
To date, the spread of the new coronavirus has been limited, with most cases in Government-controlled areas and no cases reported in the last opposition-held areas in the northwest.
“In terms of COVID itself, so far the official case count in Syria is very low; it’s 64 and there is of course great relief that the numbers are not a lot worse when it comes to Syria,” Mr. Pedersen said. “But, at the same time, this is also what I’m hearing from Syrians when I’m talking to them, there is of course a risk of a wider spread that is ever-present, so there is no cause for complacency.”
Dismissing the possibility of holding a virtual meeting between delegates who have previously participated in UN-led Constitutional Committee discussions in the Swiss city, the negotiator highlighted fears that a fragile truce in Syria could disintegrate at any moment.
“There is a relative calm in Idlib, the ceasefire that Turkey and Russia entered into in the beginning of March is still by and large holding,” he said, echoing comments delivered on Monday to the Security Council in New York.
“And I have said that this is indeed good news, but I’ve also warned that hostilities could resume and that would have devastating consequences of course not only in Idlib, but in many other parts of Syria as well.”
Ordinary Syrians remained deeply concerned about the plight of their country, the UN official explained, citing anxiety over food shortages and disappointment at the lack of progress on reaching a political agreement to stop widespread, ongoing violence.
These developments include “mutual attempts at cross-line offensives”, he told the Security Council, “most notably by the extremist wa-Harid al-Mu’minin operations room. A number of Syrian soldiers were killed during this attack. This prompted an escalation, including increased artillery strikes on areas inside Idlib, as well as rocket fire towards Hmeimim airbase in Latakia, before the episode was contained.”
Elsewhere, “mutual shelling” incidents have been reported along with improvised explosive device attacks around Afrin and the northeast, Mr. Pedersen earlier told the Security Council, along with “targeted killings and a military build-up and clashes in the southwest”, further reports of Israeli airstrikes in Deir-ez-Zor and Aleppo and evidence of an ISIL “resurgence” in the east.
“So obviously, (it’s) very important that the US and Russia continue to work together,” he told journalists on Tuesday. “They’ve done it before with success, without the US-Russia cooperation we would never have had Security Council resolution 2254. And so, my appeal is for them to strengthen that cooperation and to move on and to support the process.”
Underscoring the profound apprehension and worry among many Syrians about the fate of detainees, abductees and missing persons since the country descended into civil war more than nine years ago, Mr. Pedersen called for their release, as part of confidence-building measures between the warring parties.
“I said have stressed again and again that the time has come now for more meaningful actions on all of these issues, you know, as I said on detainees, abductees and indeed also on missing persons.”
UN-brokered talks between the Syrian Government, opposition forces and civil society as part of the Constitutional Committee process began last November.
Should they happen, the new talks would bring together the smaller Constitutional Committee body for the third time; it comprises 15 members from the Government, the opposition and civil society. The full Constitution Committee numbers 150 participants, 50 from each delegation.