20December2014

Articles

Syria Foes 'To Meet In Same Room' At Geneva II Talks

Syria's opposition and government are expected to meet "in the same room" in Geneva after the first day of a peace conference ended with no direct talks.

UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said they knew the talks were to "save Syria".

Delegates are aiming at small concessions - not a full peace deal.

Diplomatic sources say the hope is they will focus on getting humanitarian aid into besieged areas of the city of Homs - something the US, Russia and the UN have reportedly been focusing on.

The BBC's Lina Sinjab, in Geneva, says diplomatic efforts are concentrating on trying to build confidence between the two sides with small achievements like localised ceasefires, release of detainees and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

There is hope that such steps could pave the way for the discussion of wider issues like political transition, our correspondent says.

In Homs - where President Bashar al-Assad's forces have surrounded rebel-held areas for more than a year - the practical steps needed to get humanitarian aid in have been worked out, and could take place quickly if agreed, Reuters news agency cited an official as saying.

Syria's civil conflict has claimed well over 100,000 lives since it began in 2011.

The violence has also driven 9.5 million people from their homes, creating a major humanitarian crisis within Syria and for its neighbours.

'Encouraging discussions'

The delegates are reportedly still not prepared to talk to each other directly, but are expected to communicate via Mr Brahimi, reportedly in two sessions during Saturday.

"Tomorrow everybody will be in the same room but everybody will address Mr Lakhdar Brahimi," Louay Safi, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Coalition, told reporters late on Friday.

Preliminary talks began on Wednesday in Montreux, and Mr Brahimi spent Thursday and Friday attempting to persuade both sides to agree to meet face-to-face.

Friday was supposed to be the first day of official talks, but neither side would meet the other.

Instead, Mr Brahimi met government delegates in the morning, and the opposition in the afternoon.

On Friday, the government's delegation reportedly threatened to quit the talks unless "serious" discussions were scheduled for Saturday.

The opposition and government are fundamentally divided over the aims of the conference.

The government delegation has said the main issue of the talks is finding a solution to foreign-backed "terrorism", by which it means the whole of the armed opposition.

The opposition, however, had insisted that the regime commit in writing to the 2012 Geneva I communique, which called for a transition process.

The communique urged Syria to form transitional governing authority that "could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups".

Source: BBC