Next round of Syria talks at end October: Kazakhstan

Syria talks will be held at the end of October says Kazakhstan. (Reuters file)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Next round of Syria talks at end October: Kazakhstan

ASTANA: Fresh talks on the Syria conflict will be held in Astana at the end of the month, Kazakhstan said on Thursday, as part of a Moscow-led push to end the six-year conflict.
The two-day meeting, which will take place on Oct. 30-31 in the Kazakh capital, will be the seventh round of negotiations this year that are co-sponsored by regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey.
“The guarantor states of the cessation of hostilities have agreed that the seventh round of high-level talks on Syria as part of the Astana process will be held on Oct. 30-31,” the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
At the last set of talks in September, the three powers agreed to allocate forces to patrol the zone covering Idlib province and neighboring regions.
The diplomatic push brings together the Syrian regime and representatives of the opposition, including some key armed groups who had previously steered clear of other negotiations.
Moscow has been spearheading the talks in a bid to pacify Syria after its game-changing intervention on the side of President Bashar Assad.
France criticized Russia on Thursday for calling into question an international inquiry into who is to blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
Russia has questioned the work and future of the joint inquiry by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and said it would decide whether to support extending the mandate after investigators submit their next report.
“We cannot accept that the credibility and independence of these mechanisms are challenged on the grounds that their conclusions are not suitable for Russia,” said French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne.
“This undermines the international consensus that it is our responsibility to build to stop the use of these weapons in Syria.”
The inquiry, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), is due to report by Oct. 26 on who was responsible for an April 4 attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people.
France, Britain and the US have accused Assad’s regime of being behind the attack and the probe is expected to back those claims.
The US said on Wednesday it would push the UN Security Council to renew within days the JIM’s mandate, setting the stage for a likely showdown with Russia, which backs Assad and denies Assad has used chemical weapons.
France, under President Emmanuel Macron, has been pushing for closer cooperation with Moscow, especially over Syria, and has said dialogue with Russia on enforcing a 2013 Security Council resolution to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria was one of its priorities.
“The JIM (already) concluded in its August and October 2016 reports the responsibility of the Syrian armed and security forces in three cases of chlorine use and IS (Daesh) in one case. The methodology of the investigation is indisputable,” Romatet-Espagne said.


Pastor talks of breakdown in Turkey, but also of forgiveness

Trump was insistent on Brunson’s release without conditions. (AP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Pastor talks of breakdown in Turkey, but also of forgiveness

  • Brunson was accused of links to Kurdish militants and a US-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016

VIRGINIA BEACH: The American pastor recently released after two years of confinement in Turkey said on Friday that he suffered a breakdown during his time in prison and was put on anti-anxiety medication.
Andrew Brunson said he was deprived of books — even a Bible — for long stretches of time. For eight months, he spent 24 hours a day with more than 20 men in a cell designed for eight.
But the worst of it, he said, was the uncertainty. The pastor who had led a small congregation faced the possibility of life in a Turkish prison if convicted on charges of terrorism and related counts, accusations he still calls “ridiculous.”
“I didn’t do very well,” Brunson said of living in the crowded prison cell. “It was very high stress, and I was sleeping three to four hours maximum a day. And I was really struggling a great deal. I didn’t know how long this would continue. I didn’t know why I was in prison.”
He added: “I really had a breakdown emotionally. And I received medication for anxiety because I was just a basket case.”
Sitting next to his wife, Norine, Brunson spoke inside the Virginia Beach headquarters of the Christian Broadcasting Network after an interview on “The 700 Club,” among other CBN shows. The network closely followed his ordeal, which became a cause celebre for evangelical Christians as well as President Donald Trump.
Earlier this month, Brunson was convicted in Turkey and sentenced to more than three years in prison. But he was freed and allowed to leave for the two years he had already spent in custody. For the past few months, he had been on house arrest.
Brunson was accused of links to Kurdish militants and a US-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016.
Upon his return, Brunson, 50, visited the White House and placed his hand on Trump’s shoulder in prayer before asking God to provide the president “supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him.”
Trump was insistent on Brunson’s release without conditions. And the president maintained there was no deal for Brunson’s freedom.
Brunson said on Friday that he was unaware of any deals. And he pointed out that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had previously suggested trading Brunson for Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkey of engineering a failed coup in 2016. The swap was never made.
The Brunsons, who spent 25 years in Turkey, said they still love the country but cannot return any time soon. They said they do not know what is next, but they view their ordeal as part of God’s plan.
“We haven’t done anything great,” Brunson said. “But for so many people in so many countries to be praying for us, this is something that God did. It was not just to bless me. He’s using that to bless Turkey.”
In the meantime, the couple is still recovering from the past two years, which included Norine Brunson’s arrest with her husband and the two weeks she spent with him in prison.
She was released and allowed to stay in the country while he was shipped around to various prisons. Their children, then ages 15, 18 and 21, were in the US and have remained there.
The Brunsons said they still do not know why the Turkish government made its accusations. Their missionary work was legal and out in the open for more than two decades.
But they said they were American Christians, who are viewed with suspicion in Turkey. And they were there after the failed coup.
Brunson said Turkish authorities never offered any proof to support the charges — no emails, no social media postings or recordings.
But people the Brunsons had known testified against him. It is something the pastor is still processing.
“It’s not an option not to forgive; we are required to as Christians,” Brunson said. “Is it easy? No. But God forgave me. As I get emotions that come back, I say, ‘I forgive.’”