Geneva: UN-sponsored Syrian peace talks scheduled to start today will now begin here on Friday and will likely continue over six months, the UN said today. "There have been different, very different opinions and positions regarding the list of invitations. That has been the issue, the stalemate, so far," said the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.
"And the date in which we are aiming at having the beginning of the Intra-Syrian talks is 29 January," he said of the peace talks that will be held in the UN's European headquarters in Geneva.
The UN-sponsored talks, earlier scheduled to start on Monday were re-scheduled after disagreements among the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG) on who should represent the Syrian opposition.
The ISSG includes countries like the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and China. The talks are structured as "proximity talks" spread over six months, on a "staggered, chronological, proximity approach".
The Security Council had passed a resolution in December last year that supports international efforts to seek a political solution in Syria and recognised the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) as the main body dealing with the Syria peace process. The resolution also calls for a ceasefire between the regime and its opposition in Syria in six months. The talks will aim at a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition — objectives of which include credible, inclusive governance within six months, scheduling the drafting of a new Constitution and free and fair elections within 18 months of drafting the Constitution.
But the immediate focus of the talks would be a broad ceasefire.
"However, the first priority will be the focus of the talks of what most Syrians, if not all, want to hear - the possibility of a broad ceasefire and the possibility of stopping the threat of the Islamic State (IS). And, therefore, thanks to the broad ceasefire, an increase in humanitarian aid," de Mistura said. Though al-Nusra and IS — two deadly groups unleashing terror in Syria — will not be a part of the talks, "but there are plenty of other suspensions of fighting that can take place" if a ceasefire is actually agreed upon, the UN envoy for Syria said.
The first part of the talks will last for two or three weeks after which a date for the next round of talks will be decided. The UN official said that he will start issuing invitations for the talks tomorrow but refused to comment on the specifics of the invitations - the issue has been a major point of contention, particularly, between the US and Russia. The deadly civil war in Syria, now in its fifth year, has had catastrophic humanitarian consequences.
The UNHCR has recorded 4.5 million registered Syrian refugees including 2.1 million Syrians in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, 1.9 million Syrians registered by Turkey, and more than 26,700 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa. Additionally, the war has internally displaced 7.6 million people within the boundaries of their beleaguered homeland. The protracted crisis in the West Asian nation has been a major cause for pushing up global forced displacement numbers to exceed 60 million last year - the largest movement of people seen since the Second World War.
Though the lion's share of the refugee burden is being shared by the neighbouring countries of Syria, many refugees have chosen to undertake perilous journeys in un-seaworthy boats to reach European shores through Greece and Italy sparking furious political debates in the continent.