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Syrian opposition group HNC arrives in Geneva, but 'not to negotiate'

The opposition group reportedly agreed to arrive in the Swiss city after speaking directly with the U.N. and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
By Marilyn Malara   |   Jan. 30, 2016 at 9:52 AM
| License Photo

GENEVA, Switzerland, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- A key Syrian opposition group is expected to join peace talks in Geneva over the weekend but will not negotiate with the Syrian government just yet.

The High Negotiations Committee says it will come to test the seriousness of Syria -- who United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura said was represented by a "substantial" delegation -- and speak with the U.N., CNN reports.

After threatening a boycott, part of the HNC's decision to travel to Geneva was based on a phone call from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who urged themto participate.

A total of 17 representatives of HNC, including three rebel leaders, are expected to arrive in Switzerland Saturday, Al Jazeera reports. Other news outlets said the group will arrive Sunday or Monday.

The attending opposition group originally spoke out against participating in Geneva until the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, lifted sieges and halted its harassment of civilians.

"We told Mr. de Mistura that these principles are above the negotiation, that they are final (and) cannot be discussed or compromised," HNC's leader Riyad Hijab said.

But U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby later asserted it was "important for these talks to continue without preconditions."

The Syrian peace talks were scheduled to begin Friday after days of delays attributed to logistical problems and issues regarding which opposition groups were to attend.

Al-Assad arrived in the Swiss city in time for the scheduled proximity talks Friday, although negotiations with the HNC were ongoing.

"We could go there but we will not enter the negotiating room if our demands are not met," Hijab reportedly said at the time.

This week's talks will mark the third attempt at peace negotiations amid the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has left more than a quarter million people dead and some 11 million others displaced. Similar rounds in 2012 and 2014 were marked as significant failures.

On the eve of the talks, De Mistura delivered a message to the Syrian people, calling them to raise their voices, "to say 'khalas,' it is enough."

"You have seen enough conferences, two of them already taken place," he said. "This one cannot fail."

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