UN: Time for large-scale Syria prisoner swaps

UN: Time for large-scale Syria prisoner swaps
The Assad regime and Syrian opposition should move forward on large-scale prisoner exchanges to build confidence ahead of their first talks next month in more than a year, the United Nations special envoy for Syria said on Friday (Sep. 27).

“One important confidence building measure ... the release of abductees and detainees ... in my opinion it hasn’t been at the scale we really need to send a proper message,” Pedersen said.

“If we do this at scale ... together with the constitutional committee and other aspects of changes on the ground in Syria, it will send an important message that a new beginning for Syria is possible.”

The UN announced on Monday the formation of a constitutional committee for Syria.

UN officials say such a committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end a war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced about half of the pre-war 22 million population.

“After eight and a half years of war and conflict we actually have some positive news,” envoy Geir Pedersen told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

“This is a deeply divided society, there is a lack of trust, obviously between the two parties, but there is also a lack of trust between Syria and the international community,” Pedersen said. “So hopefully the constitutional committee can be a first step in the right direction.”

According to a letter sent to the Security Council from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, dated Thursday, and seen by Reuters, the committee will meet under UN auspices in Geneva on Oct. 30.

The body will compromise 150 people, split three ways between the government, opposition and civil society with each side selecting 15 people to prepare and draft constitutional proposals.

Reports suggest more than 100,000 people in Syria have been detained, abducted or gone missing during the eight-year conflict, with the Assad regime mainly responsible, the UN political chief said in August.

Rosemary DiCarlo urged all parties to heed the Security Council’s call for the release of all those arbitrarily detained and to provide information to families about their loved ones as required by international law.

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