Middle East

Opposition to mull expanded Geneva team

File - National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change members Hussein Awdat (L) and Hassan Abdul-Azim (R) during a press conference in Damascus on 18 September 2011. (AFP/Louai Beshara)

BEIRUT: Representatives of the opposition are scheduled to meet in Cairo this week to discuss expanding their delegation at the next round of Geneva II talks, according to the head of an officially tolerated opposition group.

Hasan Abdel-Azim, the general coordinator of the National Coordination Body umbrella group, told The Daily Star Monday he had been contacted by the presidency of the opposition-in-exile National Coalition to arrange the meeting.

“If a meeting takes place in the next few days, we’ve agreed to attend,” Abdel-Azim said.

He said the meeting should be dedicated to agreeing on widening the scope of an opposition delegation during the next round of Geneva II, scheduled for Feb. 10.

The National Coordination Body originally expressed its readiness to attend the first round of Geneva II talks, which took place last month and failed to achieve anything of note, other than bringing the two warring sides together for discussions mediated by Lakhdar Brahimi of the United Nations.

National Coalition president Ahmad Jarba favored the inclusion of NCB representatives in a united opposition delegation, but was roundly criticized by his colleagues for the move, Abdel-Azim said.

“They wanted us to send a few members along, while the majority of the 15-member delegation would be from the Coalition,” Abdel-Azim said. “We rejected [participation] because we didn’t want to be marginalized,” he added.

There was also insufficient time between the coalition’s acceptance of Geneva and the kick-off of the talks to prepare for the conference, he added.

Abdel-Azim said this week’s proposed talks in Cairo should focus on expanding the opposition delegation so that it represents at least four major currents: the National Coalition, the NCB, Kurdish groups, and “independent” opposition figures, who could include people who have resigned from the coalition.

Abdel-Azim said the initial round of Geneva talks were “dominated by bellicose rhetoric and showed that an atmosphere of trust was completely lacking.”

“The organizers and sponsors of the talks also realized that they didn’t have real representatives of the opposition,” he added.

The NCB is classified as an officially tolerated group and is criticized for being too close to the regime by some in the ranks of the opposition, but some of its members have been arrested by the authorities.

During last month’s Geneva II round, members of the coalition held photos of the missing NCB politicians and demanded information about their whereabouts.

Abdel-Azim said that his group endorsed the original Geneva communiqué, which regime representatives have rejected because it discusses moving to a transitional political authority.

“We have always opposed a military solution and supported a political situation, but we weren’t listened to,” Abdel-Azim said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 04, 2014, on page 8.




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