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UN chief: Syria dialogue must focus on transition for success   

Arab News - 03 February, 2017

The UN wants upcoming talks in Geneva between the Syrian regime and opposition groups to be a success and this means focusing on core issues including a transitional government, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said.

The UN chief told reporters that countries should concentrate all their efforts on the June 2012 communique approved by key nations in Geneva and a Security Council resolution adopted on Dec. 31 that again endorsed its roadmap to peace in the war-ravaged country.

The Geneva communique calls for a transitional government in Syria with full executive powers “on the basis of mutual consent” and outlines steps leading to the drafting of a new constitution and elections.

The future of Syria’s President Bashar Assad has been a stumbling block in previous talks, with opposition groups insisting he must go. Guterres was responding to a question on whether the UN supports a transitional government or a government of national unity, which would leave Assad in power.

The secretary-general said “this is a long process of negotiation that is starting now and I hope will be concluded positively for the Syrian people.”

“What we need is to concentrate all our efforts in line with (the) Security Council resolution and Geneva communique to make Geneva a success,” he said.

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura, who will oversee the UN-sponsored talks, announced Tuesday they have been postponed from Feb. 8 to Feb. 20 to try to solidify the Dec. 30 cease-fire agreement that is broadly working “quite effectively.”

The delay will also give the government a chance “to become seriously engaged in concessions” and the opposition time to unify its delegation, he said.

De Mistura said invitations will be issued around Feb. 8 and if the opposition is not united by that date he will select the delegation and ensure that it is as inclusive as possible, including women which has not previously been the case.

Guterres said this possibility was given to de Mistura by the Security Council when asked about strong criticism from the main opposition High Negotiations Committee to a possible UN-appointed delegation.

“What we want is the success of the Geneva conference, and the success of the Geneva conference implies that there is a meaningful representation of the Syrian opposition in Geneva, and we will do everything to make sure that that happens,” he said.

Guterres expressed hope that President Donald Trump’s ban on refugees entering the US will be short and that Syrians would not be excluded when it’s lifted because they currently “have the most dramatic needs in the world.”

He said the US bans on travel and refugee resettlement violate “our basic principles” and are not an effective way to stop would-be terrorists.

Meanwhile, eleven civilians died in coalition airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria late last year, officials said Thursday.

The acknowledgement brings to 199 the total minimum number of unintentional deaths from the campaign that started in the fall of 2014, though critics say the real number is far higher.

A statement from the coalition said investigators had probed a series of reports alleging civilian deaths from airstrikes.

Seven of these reports were deemed non-credible, while four others, dating from October to December, were credible.

In one incident, seven civilians were killed in a Dec. 7 strike on a Daesh compound near the group’s Syrian stronghold Raqqa.

“Although the coalition makes extraordinary efforts to strike military targets in a manner that minimizes the risk of civilian casualties, in some cases casualties are unavoidable,” the coalition statement read.

A Dec. 9 strike saw two civilians killed near Mosul in Iraq.

Though the coalition did not provide details, unintentional deaths sometimes occur when a civilian enters a bomb’s zone of destruction after that munition has been released from a plane or drone circling high overhead.

It can take about 30 seconds for a bomb to reach its target.

Airwars, a London-based collective of journalists and researchers, uses local sources, photographs and media accounts to keep a detailed list of every known coalition air strike.

They have praised Pentagon efforts at accountability compared to other players in Syria such as Russia and the regime of President Bashar Assad, but the group says the number of likely civilian deaths from coalition strikes is 2,358 at a bare minimum.
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