Syria rivals ‘willing’ to swap prisoners

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi also says warring sides are prepared to discuss aid, local ceasefires

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Syria’s two warring sides are prepared to discuss improving access for aid deliveries, prisoner swaps and local ceasefires, U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday after the first day of peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict.

“We have had some fairly clear indications that the parties are willing to discuss issues of access to needy people, the liberation of prisoners and local ceasefires,” Reuters quoted Brahimi as saying when addressing a news conference in Switzerland.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that he had urged the Syrian government to release detainees as a confidence-building measure.

The U.N. chief, Western powers, Russia and Arab countries agreed to hold the conference on the basis of a previous Geneva conference, held in June 2013, in which rival parties agreed to form a transitional authority with no role for President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as saying on Wednesday that talks to end the war in Syria should cover all topics of concern to the two sides, including the future of Assad.

Asked about Assad’s future, Wang told reporters: “All issues of concern to the two sides should be put on the table including the one you mentioned just now.”

He said the talks should begin by tackling the easiest issues and then move onto more difficult ones.

“I believe as long as the negotiation continues without disruption, then as the dialogue deepens and trust grows between the two parties, all issues should and can be resolved.”

Syria’s government and opposition, meeting for the first time, vented their mutual hostility on Wednesday and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem insisted Assad’s future was not in question.

“Nobody in this world has a right to withdraw legitimacy from a president or government ... other than the Syrians themselves,” he said.

Wang said the two sides should strive to deliver an “early harvest” to build confidence, such as prisoner releases, local ceasefires and humanitarian cooperation.

Asked about the possibility of a U.N. Security Council resolution on humanitarian access, Wang said China was deeply sympathetic to the plight of the 2.4 million Syrian refugees, but it would be wrong to politicize the humanitarian issue.

(With Reuters)

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