Geneva, Jan 25 IANS | 10 months ago

Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition sat together Saturday in a joint meeting with UN-Arab League joint envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, tentatively initiating talks to end the three-year-old civil war in that country.

According to sources in the UN Information Service of Geneva, the two sides "are now meeting together with the Joint Special Representative at the UN Office at Geneva", Xinhua reported.

The session gave rise to some hope after a rocky start to the international conference on Syria, dubbed Geneva II, which saw acrimonious exchanges between the two sides.

After the meeting, Monzer Akbik, spokesperson for the chairman of the main opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), gave reporters some details.

"The idea was that we meet today in one room, the delegation representing the Syrian people, that is the national coalition, in front of the delegation representing Bashar Assad's Syrian government," Akbik said.

"It was a U-shaped table. The two delegations sat opposite to each other, with Lakhdar Brahimi in the middle. The only person who spoke in this session was Brahimi," he said.

Bashar Ja'afari, permanent representative of Syria to the UN, said of the negotiations: "We came for that."

Earlier, he had told media: "We came with positive spirit and open mind to discuss everything with the other delegation. This is why we are here."

He acknowledged the core issues would not be discussed on the first day of talks.

"Today is about format," he said.

Geneva II marks the first time representatives of both the government and opposition have entered direct negotiations since the onset of the conflict.

They were originally supposed to start direct talks Friday. However, the process did not proceed as scheduled and Brahimi spent two days mediating between the two parties.

Friday afternoon, SNC spokesman Louay Safi accused the government of lacking goodwill and attempting to run away from the political process.

But Ja'afari said: "They should have come to the conference yesterday. They didn't come. That means they have some kind of confusion somewhere at some level."

"If you want commitment, you should address the other side," he said.

"We are committed," he said.

(Posted on 25-01-2014)

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