Syria negotiators reach Kazakhstan for peace talks

People watch as members of the Syrian Civil Defense search the rubble of a collapsed building following an explosion in the town of Jisr Al-Shughour, in the Syrian province of Idlib, on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 25 April 2019
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Syria negotiators reach Kazakhstan for peace talks

  • Talks will take place throughout the day in “two-way and three-way formats”
  • UN’s Syria envoy Geir Pedersen was to arrive later in the day

NUR-SULTAN: Delegations from Iran, Russia and Turkey were in Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan on Thursday seeking an end to the conflict in Syria while shoring up their interests in any future political settlement.

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that teams from the three powers as well as negotiators from the Syrian regime and its armed opponents had arrived in the capital on Thursday.

Talks will take place throughout the day in “two-way and three-way formats” ahead of an expected plenary session on Friday, the ministry said in a statement.

UN’s Syria envoy Geir Pedersen was to arrive later in the day, the ministry added.

The situation on the ground in the northwestern region of Idlib, under the administrative control of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), is expected to feature prominently in the talks.

Idlib has been protected from a massive regime offensive by a September deal inked by Damascus ally Russia and opposition backer Turkey. But regime bombardment has increased since HTS took full control of the region from rival fighters in January. Other items expected to be included in negotiations include prisoner swaps and the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Russia, a backer of Syria’s Bashar Assad, has taken a lead role in diplomatic efforts in Kazakhstan that has largely sidelined UN diplomacy.

Tehran, like Moscow, is an ally of Assad’s regime, while Ankara has aligned itself with the opposition but has repeatedly threatened to attack Kurdish fighters on the Syrian side of its southern border that it views as “terrorists.”

A Western diplomat told AFP that Moscow will be aware of perceptions that recent rounds of the so-called “Astana process” have made little progress and may push to speed up the creation of a long-awaited constitutional committee.

The capital of Kazakhstan was called Astana until last month, when it was renamed after the country’s outgoing president.

The committee is of particular interest to the UN which favors a Syrian-led resolution to the conflict but it may be hamstrung from the outset, the diplomat warned.

“Even if a constitutional committee is created, it will then take a long time to reach a very uncertain result,” the diplomat told AFP.

Any proposal would therefore be “low risk” for Moscow, whose military intervention in 2015 has helped Damascus assert control over two-thirds of the country’s territory. Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions.

 


Libya’s Haftar says to fight until Tripoli ‘militias’ defeated

Updated 6 min 47 sec ago
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Libya’s Haftar says to fight until Tripoli ‘militias’ defeated

  • Haftar had justified the offensive last month by saying he was fighting against “private militias and extremist groups”
  • 100,000 people are feared trapped by the clashes raging on the outskirts of Tripoli

PARIS: Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is leading a military offensive against the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, said in an interview published Sunday he will continue fighting until militias in the city laid down their arms.
Haftar had justified the offensive last month by saying he was fighting against “private militias and extremist groups” who he said were gaining influence in the capital under Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj.
“Of course a political solution is the objective,” Haftar told the Journal de Dimanche newspaper in France. “But to return to politics, we need to finish with the militias.
“The problem in Tripoli is a security one.”
He offered an amnesty to fighters in Tripoli who laid down their arms, saying they would be allowed to “return home safe and sound.”
He also took aim at UN mediator Ghassan Salame, who has warned the country is “committing suicide” due to a conflict that 6-10 foreign states are involved in.
“Salame is making irresponsible statements,” Haftar said. “He wasn’t like that before, he has changed. From an impartial and honest mediator, he has become a biased one.”
Salame has warned that Haftar’s offensive is “just the start of a long and bloody war.”
More than 75,000 people have been driven from their homes in the latest fighting and 510 have been killed, according to the World Health Organization.
More than 2,400 have also been wounded, while 100,000 people are feared trapped by the clashes raging on the outskirts of Tripoli.