Astana dialogue set for Jan. 23

Astana dialogue set for Jan. 23
Free Syrian Army fighters gather near Qabasin town, on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab. (Reuters)
Updated 23 January 2017

Astana dialogue set for Jan. 23

Astana dialogue set for Jan. 23

MOSCOW: Talks on Syria’s political future will take place in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on Jan. 23, a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.
“At this time there is no indication that the meeting will be postponed. The date of Jan. 23 is set,” the source said of the negotiations to be hosted by Russia and Turkey between the Syrian regime and opposition groups.
The diplomatic source said Wednesday that current preparations for the peace talks involve compiling a list of participants.
Some groups have already expressed concern over whether the meeting will be fully representative, with the Syrian Kurds, crucial Western allies in the Syrian war but despised by Turkey, on Tuesday saying they were not invited.
Meanwhile, regime aircraft pounded opposition fighters and their radical allies in northern Syria, a monitor said Wednesday. Air raids targeted the opposition strongholds of Atarib and Khan Al-Assal in Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It had no immediate word on any casualties. The strikes came despite a shaky two-week cease-fire between the regime and the opposition that is meant to pave the way for the Atana talks.
Regime jets also carried out strikes on Wednesday in Idlib province in the northwest, targeting positions of former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh Al-Sham Front, which is not party to the cease-fire, the Observatory said.
The strikes on the town of Taftanaz killed three fighters from a radical group, the Britain-based monitor said.
The White Helmets, a rescue service operating in opposition areas, spent hours clearing debris with picks and hammers.
Since the cease-fire went into effect on Dec. 30, the regime’s strikes on opposition strongholds have eased but have not stopped completely.
Fighting has continued in the Wadi Barada region, northwest of Damascus, which is the capital’s main water source.
A Syrian provincial governor said on Wednesday the regime and opposition fighters had agreed on a plan to repair damage to a spring in the Wadi Barada area that supplies water to the capital, state television reported.
The local media office for activists in opposition-held Wadi Barada, where the spring is located, denied any agreement had been reached.
The spring was knocked out of service in late December, reducing water supplies to the 70 percent of residents of Damascus and surrounding areas that it serves.
The warring parties in Wadi Barada, a mountainous valley about 20 km northwest of Damascus, agreed for technicians to enter the damaged spring facility, state television said.


Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.