The main opposition Syrian National Coalition, which is backed by both Western and Arab nations, has agreed to participate in upcoming peace talks in Geneva, the coalition announced Saturday. However, rebel fighters in Syria have rejected the talks.
The internationally sponsored “Geneva 2” talks are due to begin in the city of Montreux on Wednesday and will involve representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Assad reiterated on Sunday that he has no intention of giving up power, Russian agency Interfax reported.
"If we wanted to give up, we would have done so at the very beginning,” he said. “We are on guard for our country. This issue is not up for discussion," he told visiting Russian parliamentarians in Damascus.
In a vote among Syrian National Coalition members on Saturday, 58 backed the motion to attend the talks compared to 14 against. Another 44 had already withdrawn from the vote.
The Coalition had been under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to also attend the peace talks.
However, many of its members were hesitant to attend a conference that they believe has little chance of success and will burn the last shred of credibility the group has with powerful rebels fighting in Syria, who reject the talks.
The Coalition, based in Turkey, has little influence on the ground in Syria. Its military arm, the Supreme Military Council (SMC), has been eclipsed by the strength of Islamist rebels and al Qaeda-linked fighters.
It was not immediately clear whether the Coalition’s vote would be backed by a separate meeting, in Ankara, of Syrian rebel militias, who would be needed to implement any agreements made at peace talks.
Roadmap to elections
The US and Russia have been pushing for a peace conference involving both Syrian opposition and government representatives since last year.
It will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two opposing groups since the country’s crisis began in March 2011, killing more than 100,000 people and displacing millions.
The aim of the conference is to agree on a roadmap for Syria based on one adopted by the US, Russia and other major powers in June 2012. That plan includes the creation of a transitional government and eventual elections.
The Syrian opposition had previously demanded that Assad agrees to step down before the conference is held.
However, with his government troops keeping their momentum on the ground, Assad’s government has repeatedly said he will not surrender power and may run again in elections due in mid-2014.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-01-18