Ban opens Syrian peace talks, urges all sides to seize ‘historic’ opportunity to end bloodshed
“After nearly three painful years of conflict and suffering in Syria, today is a day of fragile but real hope,” he told the opening session of the high-level segment of the United Nations peace conference on Syria in Montreux, Switzerland.
“For the first time, the Syrian Government and the Syria 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.
“All Syrians, and all in the region affected by this crisis, are looking to you gathered here to end the unspeakable human suffering, to save Syria’s rich societal mosaic, and to embark on a meaningful political process to achieve a Syrian-led transition.”
Today’s meeting, designed to give international support to the efforts to resolve the deadly conflict that has torn Syria apart, will be followed on Friday by talks between the Syrian parties at UN headquarters in Geneva in what will be the first time that the Government and opposition meet at a negotiating table since the conflict started in March 2011.
The basis of the talks is full implementation of an action plan adopted in the so-called Geneva Communiqué of 2012, adopted at the first international conference on the conflict, and which calls for a transitional government to lead to free and fair elections.
But participants will also seek to make arrangements for humanitarian aid to flow into a country where well over 100,000 people have been killed and nearly 9 million others driven from their homes since the conflict erupted between the Government and various groups seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
Participants at the high-level segment of the Geneva II Conference on Syria, taking place in Montreux, Switzerland. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
“You have an enormous opportunity and responsibility to render historic service to the Syrian people,” Mr. Ban said, specifically addressing the Syrian Government and opposition delegations.
“It is the most profound of tragedies that peaceful protests in Syria, calling for change, turned into a bloody civil war. If the Government leaders had listened more attentively and humbly to the concerns expressed by the people, this conference might not have been necessary. The disaster is now all-encompassing.”
He listed a litany of the war’s horrendous consequences – towns rendered unliveable by constant aerial bombardments; schools, hospitals, markets, homes and places of worship destroyed; car bombs, suicide and mortar attacks terrifying civilians; foreign fighters and radical groups imposing their own “destructive and dangerous” vision; over 6.5 million people internally displaced and over 2.3 million others, half of them children, fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Stressing that more than 9.3 million people within the country need humanitarian aid, over 2.5 million of them living in areas where access is seriously constrained or non-existent, Mr. Ban called on the Government and the opposition to allow immediate and full access to all those in need, particularly in besieged areas.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have been cut off from any assistance for months, with disturbing reports of malnutrition and desperate health conditions,” he said. “Food and medical and surgical equipment must be allowed in; the sick and wounded people must be allowed out.”
He stressed that the Syrians themselves have the primary responsibility to end the conflict, determine their political system and future, and start rebuilding their country, while the duty of all members of the international community, whether present at today’s conference or not, is to do everything within their power to help them achieve these goals.
The Geneva Communiqué 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 and providing for the restoration of public services and full observance of human rights, he noted.
“Great challenges lie ahead but they are not insurmountable,” he concluded. “How many more will die in Syria, lose their loved ones, be maimed for life or lose their homes if this opportunity is lost? There is no alternative to ending the violence and a political solution. That is why we are here.
“Let us prove to all that the world is able to unite and support the people of Syria as they embark on the path towards a peaceful, democratic and stable Syria.”
In a later news conference Mr. Ban called for access for humanitarian aid to start as of today. “Food, medicine, and surgical equipment must be allowed in. Civilians, including the sick and wounded, must be allowed out,” he stressed.
The presence of more than 40 delegations at today’s meeting sent a message to the Syrian delegations that the world wants an urgent end to the conflict and a political solution.
“Enough is enough; the time has come to negotiate,” he said. “Today almost everyone with the means to influence the course of this conflict was in the same room under the auspices of the United Nations. That alone is historic. We did not expect instant breakthroughs from today’s conference. No-one underestimates the difficulties.
“But the seriousness and horror of the situation has focused all minds, and there is a new determination to insist that the parties find a way to peace. We must seize this fragile chance.”