Syrian opposition to boycott Sochi ‘as it undermines Geneva process’

JEDDAH: The Syrian opposition is boycotting a Moscow-sponsored meeting in Sochi because it has a hidden agenda to sideline the Geneva process which is based on UN Security Council resolutions, Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the opposition, told Arab News on Saturday.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) announced the boycott of the conference in a tweet after a vote held in Vienna, Austria, where a UN-led conference was being held.
The two-day Vienna conference ended, as in many previous rounds, with accusations hurled back and forth between the two sides in comments to the press.
Al-Aridi said Sochi “is not the best way to find peace.” It aims at bringing about some sort of reconciliation between Syrians, giving the impression that the problem is between the Syrians themselves and not between the regime and the people who revolted for some freedom, Al-Aridi added.
“The (Syrian) regime doesn’t believe in a political solution and it will not believe in the future … it only believes in the military option,” Syrian opposition leader Naser Al-Hariri said from Vienna on Saturday.
Russia has been steering a separate negotiating track in Astana, and now in the Black Sea resort of Sochi where the conference is scheduled to be held on Monday with 1,600 representatives of the Syrian regime and opposition.
An earlier opposition statement said Sochi talks would not lead to a genuine peace track that could end Syria’s seven-year war.
Al-Aridi said: “There are no real international terms of reference for Sochi.”
The UN’s Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura will attend the Sochi congress, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement. Dujarric added that he is confident that the conference in Sochi will be an important contribution to a “revived intra-Syrian talks under the auspices of the UN in Geneva.”
Asked if it will harm the opposition’s stance, Al-Aridi said: “The Russians insisted on having the UN presence there in order to give Sochi some legitimacy. The attendance of de Mistura would not affect us. His attendance won’t give the meeting legitimacy. The job of the UN special envoy is to be attentive on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Sochi is not under UN auspices. It is being held by Russia which is in one way or another an outside power working against Syrians.”
The Sochi meeting, said Al-Aridi, talks about a national dialogue and ideally such a dialogue should be undertaken by Syrians, not a foreign power. “At the same time, a national dialogue is something to be formulated by the transitional governing body, according to UN Resolution 2254.”
Al-Aridi said the main disagreement with Moscow to attend Sochi talks was over the conditions, the parameters and the criteria for the selection of the so-called Constitutional Committee and its membership. There are 100 people to be selected, he said, adding that from the opposition, no one is coming from Syria and those coming in their hundreds are not coming without the permission of the intelligence.
He said there were no disagreements in the opposition over boycotting Sochi. “Everybody expressed their own opinion about going or not going. There was a democratic election. Among the 36-strong Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), only nine wanted to go.”
Al-Aridi said the SNC and the UN “are reading from the same page.”
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