Geneva II conference on Syria kicks off

Geneva, Jan 22: A UN-backed international conference started Wednesday in the Swiss lakeside city of Montreux, aiming to end a three-year-long conflict in Syria.

The meeting, dubbed Geneva II and chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is being attended by representatives from both the Syrian government and the opposition for the first time in three years.

=”After nearly three painful years of conflict and suffering in Syria, today is a day of fragile but real hope,” Xinhua quoted Ban as saying in his opening remarks.

“For the first time, the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition, countries of the region, and the wider international community are convening to seek a political solution to the death, destruction and displacement that is the dire reality of life in Syria today,” he said.

He told representatives that all members of the international community has the duty to help the Syrian people “end conflict, determine their political system and future, and start rebuilding their country”.

“The Geneva Communique sets out a number of key steps for a Syrian-led transition, starting with the establishment of ‘a transitional governing body with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent’ — including over the military forces and security and intelligence services,” Ban noted.

“I call on the Syrian delegations to engage seriously and constructively. Great challenges lie ahead but they are not insurmountable,” he said.

The UN chief also urged all participants to impress upon both sides the necessity and inevitability of a political solution.

“I count on you to encourage the Syrian sides and their delegations to reach a comprehensive settlement based on the Geneva Communique,” he added.

The conference also saw foreign ministers and officials from nearly 40 other countries, including those from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Russia, China, France and Britain – along with delegates from regional powers, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Qatar among others.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called the conference a “beginning” of “what will obviously be a tough and complicated negotiation”.

“Peace talks to end a war and to end a struggle like this always are tough,” Kerry said.

“Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transition government means that that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar al-Assad will not be part of that transition government,” he said.

“There are, in this room, all of the players who have the ability, with the exception of one or two, to have an impact on the choices that are made here,” he said. “People who are supporting different groups are here. These people have the ability to affect the outcome.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged participants to “do everything to help the Syrian government and the opposition to pool efforts with the objective of eradicating terrorism”.

“The threat of Syria’s turning into a hotbed of international terrorism is the most serious problem,” he said.

He expected all third parties to encourage Syrians to achieve consensus and restraint from predetermining final agreements.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told participants that the path of peace talks between different parties from Syria is bound to be tortuous with twists and turns, and hence, confidence, patience and persistence were needed so as to find a middle way.

To resolve the conflicts in Syria is urgent, while the priority is to achieve cease-fire and stop violence, Wang noted.

“Military actions are doomed to fail,” he said, urging different parties from Syria to stick to the road of political resolution, so as to find a middle way that suits Syria’s real national situation and addresses interests of both sides.

Wang stressed that voices from all parties be equally heard, and all ethnic and religious groups and factions have their rights and interests balanced, especially minority groups, women and refugees.

“We should be wary of any behaviour of discrimination, instigation and revenge,” he said.

As for the international community, Wang said it should play a positive role as a major mediator, giving advice that is helpful for reconciliation, but must not impose any political agenda on Syria.

IANS