Breakthrough unlikely at Sochi conference: France

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (left) with French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly and arrive at the Prime Minister's official residence before their meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on January 26, 2018. (REUTERS/Frank Robichon/Pool)
Updated 30 January 2018

Breakthrough unlikely at Sochi conference: France

TOKYO: France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday he was skeptical of any breakthrough at upcoming talks hosted by Russia and aimed at ending Syria’s bitter civil war.
Moscow, which has helped turn the war in favor of its ally Bashar Assad, has invited 1,600 people to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to begin hammering out a new constitution for post-war Syria, with talks set to start Tuesday.
The gathering comes after another round of UN-backed talks in Vienna ended in failure, with regime negotiators refusing to sit down with the rebel side unless they drop their demand for Assad to go.
The foreign minister said Vienna’s failure meant there was little hope for success in Russia, which the main Syrian opposition group has boycotted.
“I don’t think there will be progress in Sochi primarily because an essential component (the opposition) will not be there, precisely because of the regime’s refusal to negotiate in Vienna,” he told reporters in Tokyo during a visit.
“If there was a failure in Vienna it was because the regime was not in the negotiations,” he added.
In a statement on Monday, France’s Foreign Ministry confirmed it would not take part in the Sochi talks while Le Drian said alternatives to the UN-backed talks were “not good.”
Only a fraction of the 1,600 invitees are set to participate in the event, according to a list of participants seen by AFP which has about 350 people on it.
The Kremlin shrugged off the Syrian opposition’s decision to boycott the peace conference, saying the event would go ahead regardless and make a meaningful contribution to a political solution.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call with reporters: “The fact that some representatives of the processes currently taking place in Syria are not participating is unlikely to stop this congress from going ahead and is unlikely to seriously undermine the importance of the congress.”
Peskov said: “Everyone recognizes that immediate breakthroughs in the Syrian peace process are unlikely to be possible. The only thing that is possible is patient, incremental, detailed work that can move us forward. In this sense, the Congress will be a very important, meaningful step on this road.”
The opposition says the event is a waste of time, however.
George Sabra, a prominent figure in the Syrian political opposition, told Reuters by phone: “(Sochi) is a project to serve Russian policy. The Russians are trying, through this congress, to find a place for themselves in the Syrian political space after putting their heavy hand on Syrian land.”
Top Syrian Kurdish politician Hediye Yusuf, an architect of Kurdish-led autonomy plans for northern Syria, also predicted on social media that the event would yield little of import.
“Sochi will not bring results if the parties that are present on the ground are not there,” wrote Yusuf.
Separately, Putin’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev told the TASS news agency that Moscow regretted the opposition leadership’s decision to stay away, but said he hoped “common sense” would prevail and they would change their minds.
He said some members of other opposition factions would attend and that “all strata” of Syrian society would be represented.

Lavrentiev told TASS he expected the conference to focus on selecting the members of a commission to draft a new Syrian constitution and for delegates to appeal for help to rebuild Syria.
Fresh elections and the country’s name are also expected to be discussed.

Global rights groups condemn deadly attack on Yemen jail

Updated 06 April 2020

Global rights groups condemn deadly attack on Yemen jail

  • Internationally-recognized government has accused Iranian-backed Houthi militia of carrying out the attack

LONDON: Two international rights groups on Monday condemned an attack on a prison in Yemen’s besieged city of Taiz that left six women and a child dead.

The internationally-recognized government has accused Iranian-backed Houthi militia of carrying out Sunday’s attack.

The Houthis targeted the female section of the prison with mortar shells, according to the government’s Saba news agency.

“This is a criminal and bloodthirsty gang that has long targeted civilian gatherings and residential areas. In addition to the carnage in the prison, they gunned down today two children in eastern Taiz, killing one and leaving the other in critical condition,” Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni army spokesman in Taiz, told Arab News, adding that the prison is almost 12km from the nearest battlefield.

“They targeted the prison with a Katyusha rocket followed by five mortal shells which show that they deliberately sought to kill civilians.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said its hospital in Taiz received the casualties.

“MSF-supported Al-Thawra Hospital in Taiz city received the bodies of six women and one child who were killed in an attack on the central prison in Taiz,” it said on Twitter.

The government said 28 other female prisoners were wounded.

“Taiz citizens continue to suffer from the ongoing violence in the sixth year of the protracted conflict in Yemen,” MSF said.

“These attacks on civilians, whether indiscriminate or targeted, are unjustifiable breaches of international humanitarian law.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said attacks on prisons were banned under international law.

“The ICRC deplores yesterday’s attack on Taiz central prison that left women and children dead and injured,” the ICRC said on Twitter.

“Prisons and their inmates are protected under international humanitarian law and can not be a targeted, it said.

Meanwhile, the UN's envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths condemned the attack on Twitter, saying: "I condemn the heinous attack on Taiz's central prison which killed and injured several women and children.Civilians and civilian objects including prisons must be protected as per international humanitarian law."



The attack was also blasted by the International Committee for the Red Cross in Yemen.



Taiz, a city of 600,000 people in southwest Yemen, is under government control but has been under siege by Houthi militia for the past six years.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis have been killed in more than five years of fighting.

Yemen’s health care system has so far recorded no case of the COVID-19 illness, but aid groups have warned that when it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic. The country is already gripped by what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

(With AFP)