‘Real’ Syria peace negotiations yet to start, says UN

In Geneva, the warring parties in Syria's conflict made little progress in coming to a peace agreement. (AFP)
Updated 02 April 2017

‘Real’ Syria peace negotiations yet to start, says UN

GENEVA: The UN on Friday said “incremental” progress was made during a fifth round of talks between Syria’s warring parties, but warned the “real peace negotiations” had yet to begin.
Syrian government and opposition representatives had been “serious and engaged” during the latest nine days of talks in Geneva, UN mediator Staffan de Mistura told reporters.
He said all sides were “keen and ready to return to Geneva for a sixth round of talks,” adding that he would announce the date after discussions next week with UN chief Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council.
The two sides, who met with de Mistura separately, did finally delve into some substance, after spending four previous rounds squabbling over the agenda.
They began discussing four separate “baskets” of issues, on governance, drafting a new constitution, elections and combating terrorism in the war-ravaged country.
There was never much hope of a breakthrough, with the sides hopelessly deadlocked over the fate of President Bashar Assad and violence persisting in a six-year conflict that has already claimed more than 320,000 lives.
De Mistura previously warned not to expect “miracles” and on Friday hailed the fact that no one had walked out. He acknowledged though that the talks still remained in the preparation stage.
“In every negotiation there are certain issues that need to be prepared... before the real, real peace negotiations start... and it is clear, we are not quite there,” he said.
“I cannot deny that there are serious challenges, and I am not seeing immediately this developing into a peace agreement,” he added.
He insisted that “we must maintain this incremental momentum on the political process, even if it is only incremental.”
The negotiating sides hailed that negotiations on substance had finally begun, but appeared less optimistic than their mediator that progress was being made.
Nasr Al-Hariri, the chief negotiator for the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), lamented to reporters that the opposition was dealing with “a side that does not want to reach a political solution.”
The chief negotiator on the government side, Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar Al-Jaafari, was even more pessimistic. “We were looking forward to achieving... at least some progress in this round, but this did not happen,” he told reporters.
He maintained that his opponents “do not want a political solution, unless (it) is in accordance with their illusions... that we would hand over the keys of Syria to them.”
The Syrian government appears to have little reason to make concessions.
The rebels increasingly find themselves on the back foot, both on the ground, where they have been haemorrhaging territory, and when it comes to international support.
The US, long the opposition’s most powerful backer, acknowledged Thursday that it is no longer focused on ousting Assad as it seeks a new strategy to end Syria’s civil war.
Other opposition backers have been indicating the same, even as government supporters Russia and Iran wield increasing influence.
De Mistura on Friday meanwhile dismissed a barrage of rumors he was preparing to step down.
Only “if and when you will hear it directly either from the secretary-general or from myself, then you have to take it very seriously,” he told reporters.

Rescue mission aids starving lions in neglected Sudan zoo

Updated 55 min 43 sec ago

Rescue mission aids starving lions in neglected Sudan zoo

KHARTOUM: Four lions in a rundown zoo in the capital of Sudan, wasting away from hunger, are undergoing lifesaving medical treatment from an international animal rescue organization.

The plight of the rail-thin lions in Al-Qurashi Park in Khartoum set off an outpouring of sympathy and donations from around the world. At least five lions, both male and female, once inhabited the zoo. One lioness died of starvation last week.

On Tuesday, veterinarians and wildlife experts from Vienna-based animal welfare group Four Paws International conducted medical checks at the park, which has fallen on hard times for lack of money and attention.

Amir Khalil, head of the Four Paws emergency mission, said he was “shocked” by the poor state of the lions, their cramped quarters and the park’s general disarray.

“I don’t understand why no one was given the task of feeding them or how authorities could just overlook this,” he said, describing two of the remaining four as in critical condition, “dehydrated ... a third of their normal weight.”

Four Paws faces a daunting task and its two-day trip has been dogged by challenges from the start. 

When the team arrived late on Monday, customs agents confiscated most of their luggage and essential medicine, citing a lack of prior approval. The group says it’s operating with just a fraction of its equipment, and scrambling to find local alternatives.

Although the group typically carries out rescue missions, it has no immediate plan to transport the animals in Al-Qurashi to better conditions abroad.