The United Nations plans to convene an international conference on Syria for peace talks in the Swiss city of Montreux next month in a bid to engage warring Syrian parties and to bring an early end to the crisis in the Middle East country, according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.
"The office of the joint special representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, announced today that the International Conference on Syria will begin in Montreux in Switzerland, on 22 January," said Nesirky at a daily news briefing here.
The conference will bring the Syrian government and the opposition to a negotiating table for the first time since the conflict started in March 2011.
"The conference will then continue with negotiations between the two Syrian sides on 24 January at the Palais de Nations in Geneva and will continue there," said Nesirky.
Before the scheduled conference, Brahimi will also hold a trilateral meeting Friday with Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov, and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, Nesirky said.
"The meeting will be followed in the afternoon by a meeting with all the five permanent members of the Security Council and the immediate neighbors of Syria; namely, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey," said Nesirky. "It will also include representatives of the League of Arab States and the European Union."
More than 100,000 people have been killed and 8 million more displaced, including 2 million of them seeking refuge in neighboring countries, since the conflict first erupted in March 2011 between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and initially peaceful opponents seeking to oust him.
The goal of the so-called "Geneva II" conference will be to achieve a political solution to the conflict through a comprehensive agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition for the full implementation of the Geneva communique, adopted after the first international meeting on the issue on June 30, 2012, which called for the creation of a transitional government that would lead to holding elections.
The conference, originally scheduled to take place in Geneva, Switzerland, will now be held in two parts, with the opening session in Montreux, and then moving to the world body's headquarters in Geneva on Jan. 24 after a day's break.
"After the date had been chosen, it was realized that there would be other events taking place in Geneva at the same time," Khawla Mattar, spokeswoman for Brahimi who is organizing the conference, told reporters in Geneva Tuesday.
The World Economic Forum is due to begin in Davos on Jan. 22 with officials and VIPs passing through Geneva, as well as at least one trade fair planned in Geneva. Rather than change the date, which was selected due to the urgency expressed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and the agreement by the initiating countries, the United States and Russia, the organizers shift the venue of the conference on Jan. 22 to Montreux.
When asked about the reported bombing of Aleppo, Syria, Nesirky said that "the United Nations was aware of reports of aerial activities and of civilian casualties." As for whether there will be a mandate to find out who is accountable for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Nesirky said that "the mandate from the (UN) General Assembly, which was reaffirmed by the Security Council, was clear: to determine whether chemical weapons were used and not by whom."
"The question of accountability needs to be dealt with outside of the mechanism established by the General Assembly," he said. " It would be up to the member states to determine how to follow up. "
When asked about the report by Ake Sellstrom's team, the UN spokesman said that "the secretary-general has full confidence in the professionalism and the work of the team." The final report, presented to the secretary-general by Sellstrom last week, confirmed repeated use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict.
Sellstrom, a Swedish scientist, was appointed by the secretary- general in March to head up an investigation into alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, but not to determine who may have used them.
A Joint UN Mission with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was established and is overseeing the destruction of Syria's stockpiles and production facilities.