Syria regime says Assad ouster ‘red line’ ahead of peace talks

Sunday, Mar 13, 2016,10:52 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Damascus | Syria’s warring sides clashed over the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, with the government vowing his ouster remains a red line for looming peace talks while the opposition vowed to see him go dead or alive.

The UN-brokered, indirect negotiations due to begin in Geneva tomorrow are the latest international push to find a solution to Syria’s five-year civil war, which has killed more than 270,000 people.

Both the government and the main opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), have agreed to attend after the last talks collapsed in February. But the fresh push for peace was already facing questions yesterday, as the two sides wrangled over Assad’s fate. We will not talk with anyone who wants to discuss the presidency.

Bashar al-Assad is a red line, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told a Damascus news conference. If they continue with this approach, there’s no reason for them to come to Geneva, he said. The HNC has repeatedly called for Assad’s departure as a prerequisite for any deal, and chief opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush said the President must go for peace talks to stand a chance.

We believe that the transitional period should start with the fall, or death, of Bashar al-Assad, he told in a joint interview in Geneva. It cannot start with the presence of the regime, or the head of this regime still in power.

UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura has said the Geneva meetings would not last more than 10 days. The negotiations are set to cover the formation of a new government, a fresh constitution and UN-monitored presidential and parliamentary elections within 18 months.