Syrian opposition calls for transitional government in Geneva II talks

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Published Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Updated at 4:55 pm The Syrian opposition called on Wednesday for a transitional governing body to be set up that would oversee a total ceasefire under UN monitoring and be empowered to drive out foreign fighters deployed on both sides of the civil war.

The classified paper, obtained by Reuters, was presented to international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and a Syrian government delegation at a joint session held at peace talks in Geneva.

"The Transitional Governing Body will prepare and oversee a total ceasefire by taking immediate measures to stop military violence, protect civilians and stabilize the country in the presence of UN observers," the five-page document said.

It calls on all parties to "cooperate with the TGB in stopping the violence including the complete withdrawal of troops and tackling the issue of decommissioning the weapons of armed groups and demobilizing its members or integrating them into the army or civil public sectors".

The Damascus delegation did not reply to the proposal, opposition spokesman Louay Safi told reporters. "At this point we have not heard any response...I would like to hear some positive response."

The proposal came as a new round of talks between Syria's warring sides dragged into a third day Wednesday amid signs that Russia aimed to play a greater role in trying to break the deadlock.

Representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition National Coalition were holding face-to-face negotiations in Geneva, as they did Tuesday, according to the UN.

UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi admitted after Tuesday's session that "we are not making much progress."

After attempting to discuss the issue of how to halt the violence Tuesday, he aimed to focus Wednesday's talks on the thorny topic of a transitional governing body, but there was no sign the government would agree to address the issue.

It has repeatedly said President Bashar al-Assad's role is not up for discussion, while the opposition insists a transitional government must exclude him.

The opposition proposal made no mention of Assad's fate, but opposition forces said that he had been ignored on purpose to make clear he had no role.

The government’s focus so far has been to make the talks about halting "terrorism" - its word for the rebellion seeking Assad's ouster.

The stubborn impasse prompted Brahimi to say after Tuesday's three-hour session that the process was proving as "laborious" as in the first round last month.

In a bid to push things along before the sides met, Brahimi early Wednesday met Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, who was later expected to speak with the governmental delegation chief, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

Gatilov told Russian media upon his arrival in Switzerland that Moscow was preparing a UN Security Council resolution condemning "terrorism" in Syria.

A scheduled meeting in Geneva between Brahimi, Gatilov and US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had meanwhile been advanced by a day to Thursday afternoon, the UN said.

The current round of talks, which kicked off with separate meetings Monday and is set to last until Friday, has seen the Syrian foes continue to trade blame over who is responsible for the violence wracking their country for nearly three years.

The so-called Geneva II negotiations were initiated by the United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, a key ally of Syria. They pushed for eight months to get the parties to the negotiating table.

Since the talks first began last month, marking the biggest international push so far to end the nearly three-year civil war, Washington and especially Moscow have remained on the sidelines, allowing the UN and Brahimi to run the show.

But no progress was made during the first round to end the conflict that has already claimed more than 100,000 lives. The UN stopped updating its death toll in July, saying it could no longer access trustworthy sources on casualties within the country.

With the talks at an apparent standstill, Russia has proposed a collective meeting with the UN, Washington, Moscow and the Syrian foes to try to break the deadlock.

It remained unclear if the Syrian parties might be invited to Thursday's meeting between Brahimi, Gatilov and Sherman.

Washington and the Syrian opposition have said they would support such a move if it could help move things forward, while the government delegation has voiced skepticism.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)


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