Common ground emerging on Syria constitution, more talks planned: UN

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland June 14, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 June 2018
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Common ground emerging on Syria constitution, more talks planned: UN

  • De Mistura has a mandate from the UN Security Council to forge a political agreement between Syria’s warring sides
  • The discussions in Geneva were the first visible diplomacy in months between countries involved in the Syrian war

GENEVA: Senior officials from Iran, Russia and Turkey held “substantive” talks on Tuesday on how Syria’s constitutional committee will be set up and will function, and more such talks are planned within weeks, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said.
The discussions in Geneva were the first visible diplomacy in months between countries involved in the Syrian war, and the effort to form a constitutional committee follows two years of futile rounds of talks that never led to direct meetings between the warring sides.
“During the meeting, constructive exchanges and substantive discussions took place on issues relevant to the establishment and functioning of a constitutional committee, and some common ground is beginning to emerge,” de Mistura said in a statement.
De Mistura has a mandate from the UN Security Council to forge a political agreement between Syria’s warring sides, including a new constitution and new elections.
A congress of Syrian activists held in the Russian resort of Sochi in January gave him the task of setting up a committee to draft a new constitution. He promised at the time to consult widely on the membership, which would be unlikely to exceed 50.
The government of President Bashar Assad has sent the UN a list of nominees and Syria’s opposition is expected to follow suit soon.
The meeting brought together the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Undersecretary Sedat Onal, Russia’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev and the Iranian foreign minister’s Special Assistant in Political Affairs Hossein Jaber Ansari.
De Mistura plans to meet senior officials from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, France, Britain and Germany next week, and expects the Iranian, Russian and Turkish officials to return for more talks in the next few weeks “to widen the common ground,” the statement said.


UN begins evacuating refugees from Libya to Niger

Updated 5 min 38 sec ago
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UN begins evacuating refugees from Libya to Niger

  • The renewed fighting has killed over 200 people and left more than 900 wounded
  • Dozens of women and children were among those evacuated on the UNHCR flight that landed in Niger early Friday morning

GENEVA: The UN said Friday it had evacuated 163 refugees from war-ravaged Libya to neighboring Niger, but more than 3,000 others were still trapped in detention centers affected by clashes.
The move marked the first evacuation of refugees and migrants out of Libya since fighting escalated in Tripoli two weeks ago, the UN refugee agency said.
“Given the situation in Libya, humanitarian evacuations are a lifeline for detained refugees whose lives are in jeopardy in Libya,” UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said in a statement.
The operation came as fierce fighting continued between forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar and those backing the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
The renewed fighting has killed over 200 people and left more than 900 wounded, the World Health Organization said Thursday.
More than 25,000 have been displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Dozens of women and children were among those evacuated on the UNHCR flight that landed in Niger early Friday morning.
They had all been held in detention centers near the frontlines of the conflict.
UNHCR said it had previously relocated many of them from the Abu Selim and Ain Zara centers to its Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in the center of the capital.
In all, it said, it had relocated 539 refugees from several detention centers near the immediate fighting zone.
But it said more than 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention in areas where the fighting was raging.
The agency said it remained “extremely concerned” for the safety of those who remain “trapped inside detention centers and exposed to violence.”
Grandi meanwhile hailed Niger for welcoming the refugees and urged other countries to follow suit.
“Niger’s solidarity in receiving these refugees is world-leading and exemplary, but Niger cannot do this alone,” he said.
“There must be shared responsibility and we need other countries to come forward to lend a hand and help bring vulnerable refugees out of Libya to safety.”
UNHCR issued an urgent appeal to the international community to find solutions for all the trapped and detained refugees in Libya.
Among other things, it said there was a need for evacuations and humanitarian corridors to allow refugees in its GDF in Tripoli to find safety abroad.
It also said new such spaces were needed, since the facility had only limited capacity.