- Title: SWITZERLAND: UN's Ban and Syria envoy Brahimi arrive in Montreux for peace talks
- Date: 21st January 2014
- Summary: MONTREUX, SWITZERLAND (JANUARY 21, 2014) (REUTERS) BRAHIMI WALKING INTO HOTEL EXTERIOR OF HOTEL
- Embargoed: 5th February 2014 12:00
- Location: Switzerland
- Country: Switzerland
- Topics: Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA4PVDSDNYRG00P3ET5R7JYNE51
- Story Text: International diplomats began arriving at a hotel in the Swiss lakeside resort of Montreux on Tuesday (January 21) ahead of key peace talks between representatives of the Syrian government and the country's opposition.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the UN and Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, left Geneva in a helicopter after holding a meeting with EU's Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and arrived in the same car at the Montreux Palace hotel where the talks were scheduled to take place on Wednesday.
The peace conference will include the first discussions between President Bashar al-Assad's government and his opponents. But hopes of a breakthrough are negligible at a time when fighting has escalated and neither side shows any sign of retreating from its demands or being able to end the war with a victory.
Around a third of Syria's 22 million people have been driven from their homes, many to refugee camps abroad; half are in desperate need of international aid. The country at the heart of the Middle East has been carved up on ethnic and sectarian lines, with neighbours and distant powers lining up to arm and fund rival factions.
It has been 18 months since a previous international peace conference in Geneva ended in failure, and all other diplomatic initiatives have also proven fruitless.
However the current round of talks were in disarray on Tuesday before they began, buffeted by a botched U.N. invitation to Iran, an explosion in Beirut and new evidence that appears to show Bashar al-Assad's government has tortured and killed thousands.
Ban's unexpected, last-minute decision on Sunday to invite President Assad's main foreign backer Iran - only to withdraw the invitation a day later - proved a diplomatic fiasco, undermining talks that are already given little chance of success.
The Syrian opposition team due to arrive in Switzerland on Tuesday is headed by Ahmed Jarba, leader of the opposition National Coalition, which only agreed to attend at the last minute and nearly pulled out on Monday over Ban's invitation to Iran.
The opposition says the talks must seek Assad's removal from power but he says the only subject to discuss should be fighting terrorists, the label he uses for all his armed opponents.
On the rebel side, the talks could increase the already ferocious internal strife among rival factions. The conference is being boycotted by the powerful Sunni Islamist factions that control territory inside Syria. They have denounced the exiled political opposition as traitors for attending.
The main ethnic Kurdish faction, which controls a large swathe of the northwest, has not been invited.
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