Syrian groups urge UN boycott of Putin-hosted conference


Dozens of Syria’s leading civil society groups have warned that a planned Russian-sponsored conference is seeking to bypass the UN-led peace process and will entrench President Bashar al-Assad in power.

The 120 organisations inside the Working Group for Syria are urging Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, not to attend the conference set for the end of January, saying it would represent a “dangerous departure from the [UN-led] Geneva process”. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is set to host a two-day Syrian Congress on National Dialogue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, and is planning to send out over 1,700 invitations to Syrian groups, including to some members of the Syrian official opposition. Many opposition groups have already said they will not attend.

De Mistura has not definitively confirmed whether or not he will attend, and said he is opposed to anything that cuts across the UN process. But de Mistura may not want to alienate Putin by boycotting the talks since he needs Russia to put pressure on Assad to show flexibility if the stalled UN talks are to make progress. The last round of talks ended in failure before Christmas as the Assad regime refused to negotiate and instead focused on chalking up continued military victories.(theguardian)…[+]