Constitutional committee will not be formed by year’s end: UN Syria envoy

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura arrives to a press conference after a meeting on forming a constitutional committee in Syria. (AFP)
Updated 22 December 2018
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Constitutional committee will not be formed by year’s end: UN Syria envoy

  • According to the UN plan, the committee would have 150 members
  • Damascus blocked the composition of UN-chosen members of the committee, and recently suggested its own “17 name changes” to the list

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, on Thursday acknowledged that a committee tasked with writing a new constitution for the war-wracked country would not be in place by year’s end as was hoped.
“We have nearly completed the work of putting in place a constitutional committee to draft a constitutional reform, as a contribution to the political process — but there is an extra mile to go,” De Mistura told the Security Council.
“I deeply regret what has not been achieved, and I am sorry more was not possible,” he added, noting there were issues with a list of participants proposed by the government in Damascus.
According to the UN plan, the committee would have 150 members: 50 chosen by the regime of President Bashar Assad, 50 by the opposition and 50 by the United Nations, the latter group made up of technical experts and representatives of civil society.
But Damascus blocked the composition of the third group, and recently suggested its own “17 name changes” to the list, according to a diplomat who asked not to be named.
Although Damascus’ objection was backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey, the UN said the changes would alter the balance of the group and said it could only accept six of them.
“The United Nations, having examined the names, assessed that we would not feel comfortable yet giving the UN stamp of legitimacy to all 50 of them as meeting the necessary criteria of credibility and balance — hence the need for going an extra-mile,” De Mistura said, calling some of those Syria had sought to exclude “natural bridge-builders.”
While he failed to finalize the composition of the committee, De Mistura, who will leave the post next month, said “we have identified and put in place some of the key building blocks on which the future process can build.”
During the debate at the Security Council, Britain and France accused Damascus of blocking the UN envoy’s efforts, and reprimanded Russian and Iran — Assad’s main backers — for failing to exert their influence to sway the regime.
“Let me be clear,” said Britain’s UN ambassador Rodney Hunter. “There will be no reconstruction money, there will be no legitimacy for the regime, there will be no facilitation for returns of refugees — they will not be discussed or even considered until we get this political process moving,” he said.
Francois Delattre, his French counterpart, said the new list was made up of people that Russia, Turkey and Iran “knew were unacceptable and put the entire credibility of the future committee at risk.”
More than 360,000 people have been killed in the war, which began in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad but has morphed into a complex conflict with myriad armed groups, many of whom are foreign-backed.
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Yemeni spokesman says militants seek to ignite Hodeidah fighting

Updated 2 min 58 sec ago
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Yemeni spokesman says militants seek to ignite Hodeidah fighting

  • Renewed fighting in Hodeidah would risk severing the main passage for humanitarian aid
  • A senior Houthi member earlier said a withdrawal is “impossible”

CAIRO: Yemen’s militants are igniting more conflict by their refusal to give up control of the key port city of Hodeida, the focus of months of UN-brokered talks, a government spokesman said.
Renewed fighting in Hodeidah would risk severing the main passage for humanitarian aid to the rest of the country, including northern Yemen, a heartland of the Houthi militants.
Rageh Badi, spokesman for the internationally recognized Yemen government, denounced remarks by senior militant leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi who earlier this week told The Associated Press that the Saudi-led coalition, which backs the government side in the conflict, is trying to change the terms of the agreement struck last year in Sweden and that a militant withdrawal would therefore be “impossible.”
Badi told reporters at a press conference Wednesday in the southern city of Aden that such remarks could set off renewed fighting in Hodeidah, the key entry point for international aid to the war-torn country, and violate the tentative peace agreement reached by the two sides in Sweden.
The remarks are a “renunciation of the Hodeidah agreement and a declaration of war,” Badi said, urging the UN to step up pressure on the rebels to prevent another “explosion of the situation” in Hodeidah. Otherwise, renewed fighting is just a “few days” away, he added.