Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 4 July 2020

UN plan opens door to Syria peace but refugees at centre of problems

Lebanon's foreign minister says many Syrians are wrongly taking UN money

United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Geir Otto Pedersen speaks to journalists after his meeting with Syria's Foreign Minister in the Syrian capital Damascus on September 23, 2019. AFP
United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Geir Otto Pedersen speaks to journalists after his meeting with Syria's Foreign Minister in the Syrian capital Damascus on September 23, 2019. AFP

Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria, yesterday said the door was finally open for a peace process to begin but only if the government and opposition built trust and united.

Mr Pedersen’s remarks at a meeting in New York came as neighbouring countries repeated they were beset by the problem of refugees.

He said the UN-brokered agreement sealed on Monday on who would sit on the committee that drafts a new Syrian constitution was a first step away from conflict.

“It’s a door opener to the implementation of [UN Security Council] resolution 2254, including eventual free and fair elections, administered under supervision of the United Nations and with participation of all Syrians, including members of the diaspora,” Mr Pedersen said.

“But for this to happen, and this is important, we must build up what is still almost totally lacking in Syria — and that is a sense of trust and confidence — between Syrians, and between Syria and the outside world.

“There’s no alternative but to work together to identify how to move together along a better path.”

The committee is the first agreement struck between the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and the country’s opposition since peaceful protests broke out in 2011 and developed into civil war.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Syrian regime’s five-month military assault in the north-west province of Idlib meant “about 300,000 civilians are on our doorstep”.

“We already accepted four million,” Mr Cavusoglu said.

Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister of Lebanon, the population of which increased by more than one million Syrians, accused some refugees of pocketing money under UN programmes while freely moving between their home country and Lebanon.

“The durable solution is for the refugees to return now,” Mr Bassil said.

“The situation is conducive for a safe return.”

He urged the UN to stop the abuse of refugee funds by people he called economic migrants, rather than refugees.

But UN and aid agencies said conditions for return to Syria were unsafe, with people marked out by the Assad regime for reprisals.

Jim Jeffrey, US President Donald Trump’s special representative for Syria, said he was heartened by the formation of the constitutional committee.

But Mr Jeffrey said the fact that Mr Al Assad’s forces were largely frozen for a year in Idlib offered the best chance for a negotiated solution, despite the Syrian president still seeking a military victory in the province, he said.

Updated: September 25, 2019 08:00 PM

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