UN Envoy Sets March 24 Deadline for Progress in Syrian Talks

  • Opposition demands independent monitors to verify truce
  • 240,000 people have received aid since truce took effect

The United Nations special envoy for Syria set a deadline of March 24 for warring parties to make progress as both government and opposition negotiators stayed away from peace talks that had been scheduled to start earlier this week.

Staffan de Mistura said “substantial” talks would begin March 14, as some negotiators began arriving in Geneva for the latest effort to find a political solution to a five-year civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people and caused a major refugee crisis. Neither the Syrian opposition nor representatives of President Bashar al-Assad’s government have said whether they will attend.

The resumption of talks was planned after the U.S. and Russia brokered a partial cease-fire that took effect Feb. 27. That truce -- which doesn’t include designated terrorist groups including Islamic State -- has led to “quite a sustained reduction of violence,” de Mistura told reporters in Geneva.

Opposition leader Riad Hijab on Wednesday demanded that the UN Security Council appoint independent monitors to check for truce violations and stipulate consequences, in addition to ensuring humanitarian aid reaches besieged villages and towns. In the first week of the cease-fire, Russian and Assad forces killed more than 100 people across Syria, including 20 children and 8 women, Hijab said.

“Incidents are taking place, no question, and I’m expecting even worse incidents to take place, probably caused by spoilers,” de Mistura said.

Despite that, more than 536 trucks have delivered aid to 238,485 people since the truce went into effect, de Mistura said.

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