UN-Arab League envoy says Russia, US pledge to help unblock stalled Syria talks
The United Nations/Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said officials from Russia and the United States today promised to keep working with the UN to unblock stalled Syrian peace talks, as food and medical supplies continue to reach people in long-besieged Homs.
Speaking to the press in Geneva after a two hour meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and US Under-Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Mr. Brahimi said the officials, whose countries initiated the talks, “promised to help here, in their capitals, and elsewhere, to unblock the situation, because we are [still] not making much progress.”
The UN-sponsored talks between the Syrian Government and opposition resumed Monday, 10 days after a first round ended with little progress, in efforts to end the civil war, as a ceasefire to allow humanitarian access to the Old City of Homs, cut off by siege for nearly two years, was extended for another three days.
When a reporter suggested that, with the parties stalemated on key issues, the talks can be written off as a failure, Mr. Brahini said: “Failure is always staring at us in the face. As far the United Nations is concerned, we will certainly not leave one stone unturned if there is a possibility to move forward…Syria is in a dark tunnel, and these attempts are the point of light at the end of the tunnel.
The basis of the talks is full implementation of an action plan adopted in the so-called Geneva Communiqué of 2012, the first international conference on the conflict, calling for a transitional government to lead to free and fair elections to end fighting in which well over 100,000 people have been killed and nearly 9 million others driven from their homes since the conflict erupted between President Bashar al-Assad and various groups seeking his ouster nearly three years ago.
While no new confidence-building measures were being discussed between the parties, Mr. Brahimi said the UN is “very excited by the positive things happening in Homs”, where a third extension in the ceasefire between the warring parties had been announced so that relief workers can provide aid to civilians trapped there.
“But there are also some troubling, frightening things happening,” he warned, telling reports that UN humanitarian workers and staff from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Homs had recently come under heavy fire in the city.
“We would like very much for [humanitarian access] to be repeated in other places, but we hope that if we do, it won't take a miracle for our people to get out alive.”
Speaking to the press in New York after briefing the Security Council later in the day, UN Emergency Coordinator Valerie Amos recalled that four months after the Council adopted a Presidential Statement which stressed the need for immediate action to protect civilians and give access to people in need, the Syrian conflict has intensified.
“Civilians are under fire and the social fabric of Syria has been torn to shreds. Just this week, reports of sectarian violence and horrific human rights violations have emerged in the Sunni village of Soran and the mainly Alawite village of Ma'an,” she said, adding that the Secretary-General had recently released his report on children and armed conflict in Syria, depicting the “unspeakable” suffering of civilians.
She said the operational environment is more dangerous than ever for the UN and its humanitarian partners, with 15 more aid workers having lost their lives since October. “I told the Security Council that it is unacceptable that, four months since the members demanded action, international humanitarian law continues to be consistently and flagrantly violated by all parties to the conflict.”
Ms. Amos said that all parties are failing in their responsibility to protect civilians. “We understand that a war is going on. But even wars have rules,” she declared.
While noting “modest” progress on the humanitarian front, she said that she told the Council that whatever progress has been achieved is extremely limited, uneven and painstakingly slow. “We have not been able to deliver enough and many areas remain beyond our reach.”
“While remarkable, the events in the Old City [of Homs] cannot serve as a model. Why? It was a success, given the difficult circumstances, but I find it difficult to describe as progress, she said, adding: “Our people were under fire; we evacuated 1,400 people [but] there's nearly a quarter of a million people to go, if you look at all of those in besieged communities; and we provided food and medicines to 2,500 people: over three million people in hard-to reach communities. So yes to 2,500; no to three million.”
“This is not only about the Old City of Homs. There are millions of people in dire need across Syria, their lives hanging in the balance,” said Ms. Amos.
She underscored her plea to Council members to do everything they can to use their influence over the parties to this appalling conflict, to ensure that they abide by humanitarian pauses and ceasefires, give humanitarian actors sustained and regular access, commit, in writing, to upholding international humanitarian law, allow systematic cross-line access, and prevent UN relief teams from being shot at while delivering aid to people in need.