Geneva Syria Talks Yield Progress on Humanitarian Issues

Montreux Conference in Geneva
Jan. 26, 2014 –  The Syrian government will allow trapped women and children to immediately leave the old city of Homs, Lakhdar Brahimi said on Sunday.

He was speaking after the second day of face to face talks between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva, Switzerland.

Aid agencies have for months called for a pause in fighting to allow trapped civilians to leave the city which is partially rebel-held.

Pro-Assad forces have bombarded Homs for almost three years and the government has also reportedly blocked electricity, water and phone service while families are living without heat and adequate food.

“With regard to Homs, there is an agreement now from the armed groups inside that they will not attack a humanitarian convoy if it enters Homs,” Brahimi said in Geneva, according to a transcript provided by the UN. “What I have been told by the Government side is that women and children in this besieged area in the old city are welcome to leave immediately.”

He said “other civilians are also welcome to leave, but the Government needs the list of their names first.” Asked by a reporter who recalled the Srebrenica massacre of men and boys if this list could be used to perpetrate a similar massacre, Brahimi answered: “We don’t have that fear. I don’t think we have that fear. Horrible things are happening in Syria, we don’t want anything like Srebrenica in addition to all of that. “

While the talks are aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis which will enter its fourth year in March, there’s little indication that progress has been made on this front, but Brahimi did note there is “mutual respect” between the negotiators and an awareness that the dire humanitarian situation had to be part of the talks.

“I think we all felt, and the two parties felt also, that you cannot start negotiations about Syria without having some discussions about the very, very bad humanitarian situation,” the Algerian diplomat said.

Talks are set to resume on Monday and are expected to turn to the heart of the matter: finding a political solution based on the Geneva Communique which calls for a mutually agreed transitional government with full executive powers.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo: UN Photo/Violaine Martin