September 22, 2015 / 10:35 AM / 4 years ago

U.N. picks four Europeans to lead groups in Syria talks

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed the heads of four working groups on Syria, the United Nations said on Tuesday, signaling a step toward talks where warring parties are expected to discuss how to implement a roadmap for peace.

“It is hoped that their outcomes could eventually set the stage for a Syrian agreement to end the conflict on the basis of the Geneva Communique,” U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said, referring to a 2012 roadmap agreed by world powers.

Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, will head the safety and protection group, and former U.N. legal counsel Nicolas Michel, a Swiss citizen, will lead political and legal issues, De Mistura’s office said.

Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, will head the military, security and counter terrorism working group, and senior Swedish diplomat Birgitta Holst Alani will head the group on continuity of public services, reconstruction and development.

De Mistura unveiled the idea for the working groups in July, saying they could be a step toward a “Syrian-owned framework document” that would provide for a transitional governing body, procedures for national dialogue, a constitution drafting process and transitional justice issues.

The United Nations has said that some 250,000 people have been killed and an estimated 7.6 million are internally displaced. Another 4 million people are refugees in Syria’s neighbors.

The plan for the four working groups arose after two months of consultations with dozens of interested parties, including Syrian warring groups and regional governments, in which De Mistura tried to find some common ground.

De Mistura has moved away from the approach taken by his two predecessors, Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, who both tried to bring two sides together to forge an agreement. Those talks, now known as Geneva 1 and Geneva 2, both failed to stop the war.

“The Working Groups are intended to provide Syrians with a platform to address in-depth themes that are certainly not new, but have lacked to date sustained intra-Syrian discussion,” the statement from De Mistura’s office said.

The participation of Syrians was central, but the U.N. Security Council has also “emphasized the need for robust international and regional assistance”, it added.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Ralph Boulton

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