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UN chief names new envoy to Syria

AFP , Wednesday 31 Oct 2018
Geir Pedersen
File Photo: this file photo taken on May 10, 2007, then UN Special Representative in Lebanon Geir Pedersen (L) walks in a field in the southern Lebanese village of Tebnin during a tour to UN peacekeeping forces (Photo: AFP)
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A seasoned Norwegian diplomat who helped oversee talks leading to the Oslo peace accords has been named as the next special envoy to Syria.

In a letter seen Tuesday by AFP, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that he wishes to give the job to Geir Pedersen.

Pedersen is a veteran diplomat, who in 1993 was a member of the Norwegian team to the secret negotiations that led to the signing of the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians.

He has held several posts in the region, including as UN envoy to south Lebanon in 2005 and then as special coordinator for the whole of Lebanon from 2007 to 2008.

Pedersen also spent several years as Norway's representative to the Palestinian Authority. He is currently Norway's ambassador to China and has previously served as its envoy to the UN.

- No more 'cajoling' -

The Syria conflict, which began with anti-government street protests in 2011, has claimed more than 360,000 lives and drawn in foreign powers and various rebel groups.

"I am pleased to inform you of my intention to announce the appointment of Mr Geir O Pedersen as my Special Envoy for Syria. In taking this decision, I have consulted broadly, including with the government of the Syrian Arab Republic," Guterres said in the letter.

"Mr Pedersen will support the Syrian parties by facilitating an inclusive and credible political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people."

He also thanked Staffan de Mistura, the outgoing envoy, "for his more than four years of concerted efforts and contributions to search for peace in Syria."

Yahya Aridi, the spokesman for Syria's main opposition negotiating body, said the change of envoys would have little impact on the fate of his country if no international will and consensus emerged about a political roadmap.

"This man has experience, ranging from Iraq to Lebanon and the United Nations," he told AFP. "We hope he will be more decisive, and immediately call things by their names - more cajoling and soothing is not what the Syria file needs right now."

"But regardless of the name of the envoy, there needs to be international will and determination to reach a political solution," said Aridi.

The leaders of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany met in Istanbul at the weekend and called for a political solution to the war and a permanent truce in the last major rebel-held bastion of Idlib.

Their joint statement called for a committee to be established to draft Syria's post-war constitution before the end of the year, "paving the way for free and fair elections" in the war-torn country.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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