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UN envoy to Syria sets new round of talks to end conflict

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura,

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, above in February in Geneva, said Wednesday, March 8, 2017, that he has scheduled a new round of peace talks aimed at ending the 6-year-old Syrian civil war. Photo Credit: AP / Martial Trezzini

UNITED NATIONS — The special UN envoy to Syria has scheduled a fifth round of Geneva-based talks for later this month — an effort to capitalize on the momentum from promising discussions over nine days earlier in March.

Staffan de Mistura made the announcement Wednesday after briefing Security Council members in Manhattan, saying more progress had been achieved in the last round than was expected to end a civil war that has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with millions internally displaced, trapped in besieged areas, or living as refugees in neighboring countries.

The conflict has killed more than 400,000 people, by UN estimates, and drawn in fighters from many countries including the United States, Iran and Russia, as well as nonstate militant groups such as Hezbollah, al-Qaida and Islamic State. It has been particularly brutal with the possible commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, analysts have said.

Both the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad as well as the Islamic State have been cited by an expert panel for the use of chemical weapons, such as chlorine and sarin gas, during the war. Previous talks have been scuttled as the conflict raged on and even escalated while diplomats engaged in fruitless talks.

“We did not expect miracles and, frankly, we did not have miracles, but we achieved much more than many people had imagined we could have,” de Mistura told reporters. “We got an agenda. We got a timeline. We got some agreement, even, on substance.”

De Mistura struck a positive tone in his report about the talks that just concluded on March 4. He said he’s aiming to begin a fifth round of talks on March 23.

The resumption of talks to end the 6-year-old Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011, would be the quickest turnaround since negotiations began in Geneva under the auspices of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who quit in frustration in August 2012. Annan was succeeded by Lakhdar Brahimi, who stepped down in May 2014. De Mistura has served since July 2014.

The goal of new talks would be to build “on the outcome of the fourth round so, on the fifth round, no one can start trying to go backwards. We need to go upwards.”

De Mistura advised Syrians and fighters on both sides of the conflict to “abandon the fantasy” of a military victory. “It is pure fantasy.”

The United States, which once played a prominent role in diplomacy around the conflict when President Barack Obama was in office, is not a party to the talks in Geneva because, de Mistura stressed, they are “intra-Syria talks” exclusive to “Syrian interlocutors.”

Envoys and ambassadors or ministers from many other countries will be in attendance, he said.

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