UN accused of rewarding Russia at Sochi congress

NEW YORK: About 150 Syrian civil society groups are accusing UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of rewarding Russia by dispatching the special envoy to the Sochi peace congress.
In a letter to Guterres, the groups, including a number of opposition local councils, said envoy Staffan de Mistura attended the congress even as the Syrian regime continued to show little interest in UN-led peace talks.
“Instead of an onus on Russia to get the regime to the table in a meaningful way before Russia was rewarded, you gave them the reward of UN legitimacy upfront,” said the letter released Thursday.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Russia had provided assurances that the result of the congress would be “a contribution” to the UN-led peace talks in Geneva.
The West views Russia’s peace efforts in Syria with suspicion, concerned that Moscow is seeking to sideline the UN talks.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday played down cautionary remarks he had made about Turkey’s operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria after Ankara labeled them as insults.
Macron on Wednesday warned Turkey the operation in the Afrin region should not become an excuse to invade Syria and said he wanted Ankara to coordinate its action with its allies.
Turkey launched the air and ground offensive nearly two weeks ago to target the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin. The incursion has put pressure on relations with the West, particularly the US which has backed the Kurdish fighters in the fight against Daesh and has its own troops on the ground supporting them in other parts of Syria.
In a curt response on Thursday that highlighted the strain between Ankara and its NATO allies, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “We consider a country like France giving us reminders about an operation we are carrying out in accordance with international laws to be insults.”
“We are using our right to self-defense, this is in line with UN Security Council decisions and not an invasion. They shouldn’t be two-faced,” he said.
Speaking in Tunis, Macron nuanced his earlier remarks.
“I note that the reaction of the Turkish foreign minister probably means that (the operation) is nothing more than to secure the border and that Turkey does not intend to go further than the positions which it occupies today or to stay in the region in the long-term,” he told a news conference.
France, like the US, has extended arms and training to a YPG-led militia in the fight against Daesh in Syria. That has infuriated Turkey, which considers the YPG an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

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