Geneva: The UN said today that there was no postponement of Syria peace talks due to start on Friday in Switzerland, despite uncertainty around whether the main opposition umbrella group would attend. The UN chief negotiator in the almost five-year-old civil war, Staffan de Mistura, issued a message to the Syrian people saying that the planned discussions "cannot fail".
There is "no postponement from our side," Khawla Mattar, spokeswoman for the UN-mediated talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva due to begin on Friday.
The planned negotiations are part of a UN-backed plan, agreed in November in Vienna, that envisages talks followed by a transitional government, a new constitution, and elections within 18 months.
A source close to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus said its delegation, headed by envoy to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari, would be arriving in Geneva tomorrow as planned. But in Saudi Arabia, the High Negotiations Committee — formed last month in an effort to unite Syria's fractious opposition — was holding a third day of talks and had yet to decide whether to show up.
The Saudi-backed group has asked for "clarifications" after the UN issued invitations to other opposition figures.
It also wants assurances from the international community that it will move to end regime attacks on civilians and allow humanitarian aid. Opposition sources said it appeared increasingly unlikely the talks would open as planned.
The roadmap is the most ambitious plan yet to end the conflict which has killed more than 260,000 people and forced millions from their homes. De Mistura said that his video message was "meant to reach every single man, woman, child of Syria, inside Syria and outside, in the refugee camps or where ever you are."
"You must know also that we count on you to raise your voice to say 'khalas' ("stop" in Arabic) to say to everyone who is actually coming from Syria and from abroad to this conference that there are expectations on them to make sure that their vision, their capacity of compromise in discussion for reaching a peaceful solution in Syria is now and they need to produce that," he said.
Officials have said the talks, only the second dialogue between Syrians since the start of the conflict, would run over six months, with the first round expected to last between two and three weeks.