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

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.

Saudi Arabia, UAE form joint panel to enforce Yemen cease-fire

Updated 16 min 22 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, UAE form joint panel to enforce Yemen cease-fire

  • The panel is tasked to ensure that all the ceasefire procedures are followed

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had formed a joint panel to help enforce a cease-fire between government and separatist forces in the Yemeni provinces of Shabwah and Abyan, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said on Monday.

Colonel Turki Al-Maliki, spokesman of the coalition supporting Yemen's legitimate government, said the panel is tasked to ensure that all the ceasefire procedures are followed.

A joint statement issued early Monday by the Saudi and UAE foreign ministries stressed the urgency of enforcing a cease-fire and for the return of the civilian headquarters in Aden to the legitimate government under the supervision of coalition forces.

"The governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in line with their responsibility to support the legitimacy of Yemen in order to save Yemen and its people from the coup of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia, emphasize the continuation of all their political, military, relief and development efforts with the participation of the coalition countries that rose to support the Yemeni people," the statement said.

The separatist forces of the so-called Southern Transitional Council (STC) declared last month that it was breaking away from the UN-recognized legitimate government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, which is based in the southern city of Aden.

The Hadi government made Aden its temporary capital in 2015 after being pushed out of the capital, Sanaa, jointly by the Houthi militia and forces of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

The Hadi government was restored to power by the Saudi-led Arab Coalition and together with the STC forces they fought the combined forces of Saleh and the Houthis. The Houthis and Saleh's forces eventually fought each other, culminating in the killing of Saleh in December 2017.

Last month, STC forces seized key government installations and military camps in Aden as well as in Shabwa and Abyan.

The STC partially withdrew last week from key sites it occupied in Aden under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but it retains control of key military sites. The STC has since driven government troops out of two military camps in Abyan province.

On Saturday, government troops took control of the city of Ataq, capital of Shabwa province, after two days heavy fighting with the separatists.