Syrian opposition demands detail from government at peace talks

Bassma Kodmani of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) attends a news conference after a meeting during Syria peace talks at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 15, 2016. (Reuters)

Syrian opposition negotiators demanded on Tuesday that Syria's government detail its thoughts on a political transition and said there had been no progress on freeing detainees, who, it said, were being executed at a rate of 50 a day.

The opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) used their first meeting in a round of peace talks in Geneva to give U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura a set of general principles to guide the transition, a process to be overseen by Russia and the United States in line with a U.N. resolution.

"We intend to go into detail. We intend to go fast. We would like to see this process make progress very quickly," HNC member, Basma Kodmani, told reporters after the meeting.

She said the delegation had raised concerns about the humanitarian situation, particularly in the towns of Daraya, where "after four years there still is no aid at all that has gone in", and Al Waer in Homs governorate.

The opposition also wants the government to set out how it will begin releasing prisoners, she said.

The U.N. says it has lost count of how many have been killed in the five-year-old war and last estimated the total at 250,000. But de Mistura said the minute's silence with which he began his meeting with the opposition should have been 300,000 minutes to remember the dead.

De Mistura also said he had added a Russian academic, Vitaly Naumkin, to his team of advisers which is dominated by western Europeans, and he was looking to take on a U.S. expert.

He met Syrian government negotiators on Monday, who gave him their contribution to a plan to end the conflict that has displaced more than half the pre-war population.

Kodmani said the opposition, which insists Syria's President Bashar al-Assad have no future role in Syria, was eager to hear more about what was in the government's document.

"We would like to hear what the regime has to offer, because this is the whole point for us," she said.

"I believe he (de Mistura) has a strategy to bring the points that are common to both sides, to focus on those and build some common ground. Now for that to happen we need the regime to make those propositions in a clear and stated way. We are being very clear and will be even clearer."

De Mistura said he would collect all input from all sides and "metabolise" them and see where there was "overlapping, contradictions or even common thinking". He said he would compare the documents from the two delegations.

"We will analyse them, see whether we can make out of that a U.N. paper, for instance, or whether we can actually add to it," he said. "The secret is to take the points on one side, the other side, a third side, and come up with our own common sense and techniques in order to try to merge (them)."

Last Update: Wednesday, 16 March 2016 KSA 00:50 - GMT 21:50