New UN Syria envoy seeks Syria constitution talks, no firm timeframe

Geir Pedersen is the fourth Syria mediator after Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi and Staffan de Mistura. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 February 2019
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New UN Syria envoy seeks Syria constitution talks, no firm timeframe

  • Formation of a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria
  • Pedersen said he could not be more specific about the timeframe for a meeting of the committee

GENEVA: The new UN envoy tasked with forging peace in Syria hopes to convene a constitutional committee in Geneva “as soon as possible,” he said on Friday, without giving a firm timeframe for the latest attempt to end the country’s devastating war.
Formation of a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end an almost eight-year-old war, which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced about half of Syria’s pre-war 22 million population.
Geir Pedersen, the fourth Syria mediator after Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi and Staffan de Mistura, said he also had ideas about how to build trust and confidence between the two sides, who have previously attended nine rounds of largely fruitless talks as the war rumbled on.
“I think we have identified the challenges and we have agreed on how we should move forward and that I see as a very, very positive sign,” Pedersen told reporters.
“My hope (is) that they will be able as soon as possible to have the constitution committee to meet in Geneva.”
Syria’s opposition last year agreed to join a process of rewriting the constitution under UN auspices following a peacemaking conference in the Russian city of Sochi.
But President Bashar Assad, who is emerging triumphant in the conflict and has sworn to retake every inch of Syria still outside his control, has objected to the world body naming members of the committee.
Pedersen said he could not be more specific about the timeframe for a meeting of the committee, but he said his discussions with relevant parties were good.
Asked if he would have failed if he had not presided over an end to the war by the end of his tenure, Pedersen said the aim was to negotiate an agreement between the two parties.
“To be able to get to a situation where you can say that we have been able to put eight years of conflict behind us and that we as Syrians agree that we will begin the process of creating a future for coming Syrians, that... would be the definition that we have been successful.”
Pedersen met the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) in Riyadh last month, shortly after a visit to Damascus, where Assad’s forces have made large territorial gains on the battlefield, largely thanks to Russian and Iranian support.
Russia, Iran and Turkey, supporters of the main sides left in Syria’s complex war, have so far failed to agree on the make-up of the constitutional committee.
But chief opposition negotiator Nasr Haririr said on Jan. 19 after talks with Pedersen that Syria had a good opportunity to reach a political solution to its war because cease-fires have brought calm to many areas of the country.
Pedersen added that he saw the constitutional committee as “a potential door opener” for the political process.
In parallel with this, work was also needed on other issues and he hoped to discuss this in more detail with the Syrian parties, including the government and SNC, he said.
As a sign of increasing confidence, Pedersen said he hoped to see more prisoner exchanges, and clarity on missing persons, following a swap between the government and rebel forces a few days ago, where each side handed over 20 prisoners.


Algeria graft prosecutor refers two ex PMs to supreme court

Updated 26 May 2019
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Algeria graft prosecutor refers two ex PMs to supreme court

  • Former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal who served under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika were referred to the Supreme Court
  • Five other former ministers were also referred

ALGIERS: An Algerian prosecutor investigating graft allegations has referred two former prime ministers and five former ministers to the supreme court, Ennahar TV reported on Sunday citing a statement from the prosecution.
Mass protests have broken out in Algeria demanding the removal of the ruling elite and the prosecution of people demonstrators regard as corrupt. The seven politicians will be investigated by the court over alleged corruption cases, Ennahar said, without providing details.
They include former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal who served under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who resigned on April 2 after coming under pressure from protesters and the army.
The list of the former ministers, who are under investigation, includes Amara Benyounes, Abdelakader Zaalane, Amar Ghoul, Karim Djoudi and Abdessalam Bouchouareb.
They were in charge of the sectors of trade, transport, public works, finance and industry respectively.
Their lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
The army is now the most powerful institution after the departure of Bouteflika, who had ruled the North African country since 1999.
Army chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah has said major corruption cases would be pursued to try to appease the protests that started on Feb.22.
Bouteflika's youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs have been placed in custody by a military judge over "harming the army's authority and plotting against state authority."
At least five prominent businessmen have also been detained pending trial over involvement in corruption cases.
Protesters also want the resignation of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Beoui, who are considered as part of the ruling elite that has run the country since independence from France in 1962.