New Syria peace talks to start in earnest by Monday: UN

AFP , Tuesday 8 Mar 2016

Syria talks
Staffan de Mistura (R) United Nations Special Envoy for Syria arrives with his special advisor Jan Egeland to address the media after a meeting of the Task Force for Humanitarian Access at the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland, February 25, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

A new round of talks aimed at ending the war in Syria will begin in Geneva in earnest no later than March 14, a spokeswoman for the UN mediator said Tuesday.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has said the new round of indirect talks between Syria's warring sides will officially start on Wednesday, but that they would likely not get seriously under way immediately.

His spokeswoman Jessy Chahine confirmed his plans to resume the talks "as of the afternoon of March 9".

She said de Mistura and his team stand "ready to receive all of the participants as of this day... (and) will be conducting preparatory meetings prior to substantive discussions".

However, she said that this week was "very logistically challenging", since a major car show in Geneva had filled up all the city's hotels, and participants would be arriving on various dates.

"But the envoy will start substantive meetings with those who are in Geneva by the latest on March 14," Chahine said.

The UN is hoping to restart peace talks that collapsed last month, building on a ceasefire that has led to the first significant decline in violence in Syria's nearly five-year civil war.

The truce between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and non-jihadist rebels is part of the biggest diplomatic effort yet to resolve Syria's conflict, which has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.

The partial truce, which was negotiated by Washington and Moscow and which does not apply to the Islamic State group or the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, has largely held despite widespread scepticism before it took effect, observers say.

Like during the first round of talks in February, the next round will consist of so-called "proximity talks", in which de Mistura will meet with the different sides separately.

The Syrian regime said Monday it would attend the renewed talks in Geneva starting on March 14.

The opposition, meanwhile, has said it was still considering whether to go despite the major lull in fighting.

The head of the Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee, Riad Hijab, however said a small HNC delegation would travel to Geneva to meet the international task force monitoring the truce.

Both that task force, and another one monitoring efforts to increase humanitarian aid deliveries to besieged and hard-to-reach areas in Syria, are scheduled to meet in Geneva Wednesday, Chahine said.

Since a 17-nation group backing the Syrian peace process agreed early last month to work to significantly increase aid access in the war-ravaged country, some 150,000 of the nearly half-million people living in besieged areas have been reached, the World Food Programme said Tuesday.

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