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UN Syria envoy to step down in November

By AFP - Oct 17,2018 - Last updated at Oct 17,2018

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura arriving to a press conference closing a round of Intra Syria peace talks at the European headquarters of the United Nations offices in Geneva, on December 14, 2017 (AFP file photo)

UNITED NATIONS, United States — The United Nations envoy for Syria announced on Wednesday he will step down at the end of November after more than four years in the key post, setting back UN efforts to end the seven-year war in Syria.

“I will myself be moving on as of the last week of November,” Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council during a meeting on the crisis in Syria.

The Italian-Swedish diplomat, who became the UN’s third Syria envoy in July 2014, said he was leaving for “purely personal reasons” and had discussed his plans to leave with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

De Mistura will be travelling to Damascus next week to push for the creation of a committee to agree on a post-war constitution for Syria.

Syria is resisting the UN-led effort to set up a constitutional committee that will be comprised of government officials, opposition members and representatives of civil society.

“I am not laying down the charge until the last hour of the last day of my mandate,” he said.

De Mistura was appointed UN envoy for Syria in July 2014 after veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi resigned following the failure of peace talks in Geneva.

Brahimi spent two years in the position, stepping in after former UN chief Kofi Annan quit just six months into the role. Annan had described the Syria envoy’s job as “mission impossible”.

De Mistura’s departure will complicate UN peace efforts at a time when the Syrian government is continuing to make territorial gains, opening up prospects for a political settlement to end the war.

More than 360,000 people have died in the war in Syria, which began in March 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar Assad but has since morphed into a complex war with myriad armed groups, some of which have foreign backing.

Among the names being floated as a possible successor are the UN’s Middle East Peace Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov and the UN envoy for Iraq Jan Kubic, according to UN diplomats.


Sidelined by Astana process


During his tenure, De Mistura worked to keep UN-sponsored peace talks alive even as fighting on the ground that has seen deadly chemical weapons attacks killed off chances of a deal.

Last year, Russia, Iran and Turkey set up the Astana process to advance diplomatic efforts in Syria, a move that effectively sidelined the UN-led process that De Mistura was shepherding in Geneva.

Still, the 71-year-old diplomat, who is said to speak seven languages and favours pince-nez spectacles over conventional glasses, showed tenacity in the job.

While there were no breakthroughs in peace talks in Geneva, he insisted that incremental progress was being made.

His latest push for a committee to agree on a new constitution and power-sharing arrangements for Syria could pave the way for reconstruction aid and refugee return.

De Mistura’s previous UN roles have brought him to turbulent areas including Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Rwanda and Somalia.

In 2013, he briefly stepped away from the UN to serve as Italy’s deputy foreign minister in the short-lived technocratic government led by prime minister Mario Monti.

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