GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. special envoy to Syria on Monday handed the responsibility of agreeing ceasefires across Syria to major powers, saying his remit was only to hold talks on a U.N. resolution on elections, governance and a new constitution.
Announcing the “official” start of peace talks to end the almost five-year civil war, Staffan De Mistura also said that if the government released women and children prisoners it would be a positive signal to pursue discussions in Geneva.
“So here comes the challenge,” he said.
“There was a message ... that when the Geneva talks actually start, in parallel there should be the beginning of a serious discussion about ceasefires,” he told reporters after meeting with the Saudi-backed, opposition High Negotiation Committee (HNC) at U.N. headquarters in Geneva.
However, this is an issue that is not in his remit, De Mistura said, and it should therefore be tackled immediately by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG).
“What I am simply saying is reminding the ISSG members of what they actually indicated – that when the actual talks would start, they themselves would start helping in ensuring that there would be a discussion about an overall ceasefire in the Syrian conflict.”
The ISSG ranges from Russia and Iran, who back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to the United States, Gulf Arab states, Turkey and European nations, who provide military support to rebels on the ground and demand Assad step down.
The group is scheduled tentatively to meet in Munich on Feb. 11. De Mistura called on it “to make sure that what we’re doing here has international support and not simply leaving the Syrians alone on it.”
After two hours of talks with the HNC, De Mistura said he understood its concerns to immediately reduce the suffering of Syrians on the ground. He would resume talks with the government on Tuesday to address this before meeting the opposition again.
“The (Syrian people) deserve to see and hear facts on the ground in reduction of the violence, in the fact of the detainees and in the fact of besieged areas. We feel they have a very strong point,” he said.
The HNC, which includes political and militant opponents of Assad, has indicated it will leave Geneva unless steps set out in the U.N. resolution are implemented, including releasing prisoners, lifting sieges of blockaded areas and ending bombings.
Opposition spokesman Salim al-Muslat said its delegation was waiting for government negotiators to respond to a U.N. proposal. The HNC has said it has a list of 3,000 women and children detained in government jails.
“I think that a list of names particularly of women and children detained should be the first among the signals that in fact there is something different happening,” De Mistura said.
Speaking on arrival in Geneva, senior Syrian opposition negotiator Mohamed Alloush, representing Jaish al-Islam (Islam Army), a major rebel group labelled by Russia as a terrorist organisation, said he had come to relate a message from the Syrian people of what was really taking place.
“Air strikes continue, mortars continue, the humanitarian situation is very bad,” he told reporters at Geneva airport.
“We came for solutions, but I don’t think we have a point of agreement between us. The regime wants to wipe out the opposition,” he said.
Additional reporting by Makieh Kinda; Editing by Mark Heinrich