Syria peace talks to push on until April 27: Negotiators

UN-brokered talks aimed at ending Syria`s brutal conflict will push ahead until April 27, despite the departure of the main opposition group, negotiators said Friday.

AFP| Last Updated: Apr 22, 2016, 22:57 PM IST

Geneva: UN-brokered talks aimed at ending Syria`s brutal conflict will push ahead until April 27, despite the departure of the main opposition group, negotiators said Friday.

Syria`s main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) earlier this week halted its formal participation in the round of talks that began in Geneva on April 13 in frustration over surging violence on the ground.

But the group`s spokesman Salem al-Meslet told AFP Friday that UN mediator Staffan de Mistura had decided the talks would continue through next Wednesday, and said that "if we see major and serious steps on the ground" the delegation might return to the negotiating table.

Another opposition group close to Moscow, which is deemed more acceptable by the Syrian government, meanwhile said it would remain in Geneva through April 27 and would meet with de Mistura after the weekend.

Qadri Jamil, co-president of the so-called Moscow Group and Syria`s former deputy premier, told AFP there was no reason to halt the talks over the departure of the HNC, an umbrella group comprising the main Syrian opposition and rebel factions that came together in Riyadh in December.

"The Riyadh delegation is one of the delegations participating in Geneva, and the idea that this delegation is the chief one participating... should be erased," he said, speaking in Arabic.

Earlier this week the regime`s chief representative in Geneva, Bashar al-Jaafari, slammed the HNC decision as "absurd theatre" and said "the talks will not lose anything" due to its departure.

That view was echoed Friday by Damscus`s key backer Russia.

"Probably no one loses but them if they leave the negotiations," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on a visit to Armenia.

Following a meeting with de Mistura Friday, Jaafari told reporters his delegation was scheduled to meet the UN envoy again Monday morning, while a source close to the delegation said it would remain in Geneva "until Wednesday at least."Meslet meanwhile insisted the talks could not realistically continue without the participation of the HNC.

"It`s unrealistic for some opposition groups to talk about the continuation of the negotiations in the absence of our delegation," he said, speaking in Arabic.

"The HNC proved that it represents the Syrian people and the moderate factions inside Syria," he said, insisting no other group could convince armed factions on the ground to commit to a truce.

The group walked out in protest over a flurry of violations of a fragile truce that took effect in late February, blocked humanitarian aid to besieged areas and the lack of progress in attempts to secure the release of detainees.

But Meslet stressed the HNC had not fully withdrawn from the talks process, but had merely asked de Mistura "to postpone them until we see progress on the ground."

He said that if there are signs of major improvements "on the humanitarian issue, the truce and detainees in the next couple of days, there will be nothing stopping the members who left Geneva from returning."

De Mistura himself hinted to Swiss public broadcaster RTS late Thursday that the HNC`s departure was a bid to apply pressure to the process.

"There is a lot of what we call political gesticulation, and that is normal," he said.

Syria`s conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government protests, but has since spiralled into a multi-front war that has left more than 270,000 people dead.