United Nations-brokered peace talks on Syria are preparing to host the country’s main opposition group which set off for Geneva early on Saturday after initially refusing to go.
It is a small but significant victory for UN envoy Staffan de Mistura although the Saudi-backed HNC, which includes political and militant opponents of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, insists it wants to discuss humanitarian issues before any negotiations.
“They are coming for discussions with Mr de Mistura, with the UN, and not for a direct engagement or negotiation or to start the political negotiation process with the regime,” explained Farah Atassi, a member of the Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC).
“They are coming here just to engage in a discussion with Mr de Mistura after getting some guarantee that the demands or the requests that the opposition, or the HNC, gave – that they will be delivered and accomplished.”
Among HNC demands, the group said it had drawn up a list of 3,000 Syrian women and children in government prisons who should be released.
US Secretary of State John Kerry had made a major push to get the HNC delegation to Geneva, and the group said he had contacted it by phone to urge it to attend.
The Syrian government delegation arrived on Friday as the talks aimed at ending the country’s five year old war formally got underway.
Syria’s Kurds are not attending after Turkey demanded they be kept away. The Kurds say their absence means the talks are doomed to fail.