Syria opposition says waiting to see impact on ground of Russia withdrawal order

14th March 2016, Comments 0 comments

Syria's main opposition hailed a decision announced late Monday to withdraw Russian forces from the war-ravaged country, but said it would wait and see what impact the order would have on the ground.

"We must verify the nature of this decision and its meaning," Salem al-Meslet, spokesman for the opposition High Negotiations Committee told reporters in Geneva.

"If there is a decision to withdraw the (Russian) forces, it is a positive decision, and we will see it on the ground (but) does this decision mean removing forces or just reducing the number of aircraft in Syria, (that) we will have to check," he said.

His comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the defence ministry to begin the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria, in a move that could spell the end of Moscow's bombing campaign.

"Hopefully, we (will) see this on the ground, that Russians are not in Syria anymore," said al-Meslet, stressing that the opposition wants the "Russian people to be friends in Syria but not really partners in killing the Syrians."

But he voiced concern that the Russian announcement could be "a trick".

"Tomorrow we will see if this decision is made for the sake of the Syrian people or just for the sake of (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad," he said.

"It will be important if this decision is taken. It will be more important if Putin decides to really stand beside the Syrian people, not beside the dictator," he told journalists.

Moscow made the announcement as a new round of talks aimed to end Syria's brutal five-year war opened in Geneva Monday, with the UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura hosting a first official meeting with representatives of the government of Moscow-ally Assad.

The envoy is set to meet an HNC delegation late Tuesday afternoon.

"We are prepared to start the negotiations, no matter what decision we hear, what statement we hear," al-Meslet said.

"We are here because we are representing our people there and we came here seeking a solution for them," he insisted.

The UN-hosted negotiations in Geneva, which began a day before the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict, are the latest effort to end violence that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.

© 2016 AFP

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