Avoid insults, UN urges Syrian rivals at tense talks

GENEVA: A ban on mobile phones, recording devices and “offensive language”: the ground rules handed out at Syrian talks reflect the high tension in the corridors of Geneva, where peace is a long way from anyone’s lips.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura issued the orders to Syrian government and opposition negotiators gathered for talks which are showing little sign of progress, overshadowed by more slaughter on the ground.
“Respect the others who are present in these proceedings. No one has the right to question the legitimacy of others,” he wrote in the one-page ground rules.
“Use appropriate language and behaviour, and avoid making offensive, degrading, inflammatory or personal attacks, in and out of meetings,” he added.
The fact that such obvious rules have to be spelled out shows the deep personal animosity and bitterness between the two sides, after six years of bloody conflict and several previous rounds of UN talks which went nowhere.
The tension was palpable at the opening of the talks last Thursday evening at the UN offices in Geneva.
The regime’s chief negotiator, Syria’s envoy to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari, sat with his delegation across the room from the opposition team, led by cardiologist Nasr al-Hariri.
Between the two of them, the usually smiling de Mistura called solemnly on both sides to show “historical responsibility” and seize the opportunity to bring peace to their war-scarred country.
“Jaafari looked defiant, his arms crossed, he was staring us down, literally,” said a western diplomat.
The regime delegation left the room immediately at the end of the ceremony.
On the opposition side, a diplomatic incident was only narrowly avoided. Furious that de Mistura had invited the so-called Moscow and Cairo delegations, members of the main opposition group the High Negotiating Committee (HNC) threatened to boycott the ceremony.
“There was strong pressure from the special envoys of the countries which back the opposition,” said an opposition source. — AFP