Syria peace conference to open Jan 22 in Montreux

Syria peace conference to open Jan 22 in Montreux

GENEVA - The Associated Press
Syria peace conference to open Jan 22 in Montreux

A Syrian flag flutters in the foreground with Damascus' Sheraton hotel and Mount Qasyun in the backgound on Dec 12, 2013. AFP PHOTO

The United Nations plans to precede its internationally brokered peace talks between Syria's warring sides next month with a one-day meeting of foreign ministers in the Swiss city of Montreux, officials said Dec. 17.

A daylong gathering for speeches by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and more than two dozen other foreign ministers is planned for Jan. 22 at a Montreux hotel.

The session is taking place at the opposite end of Lake Geneva to the U.N. European headquarters because a luxury watch fair has taken up all the hotel rooms in Geneva, Khawla Mattar, a spokeswoman for the U.N.'s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, told reporters Dec. 17.

Montreux, home of the famous jazz festival, was chosen because it has the facilities for such a high-profile gathering. Mattar said the foreign ministers will demonstrate "that there is global interest in solving" the Syria crisis.

The conference will break up for a day, she said, and reconvene on Jan. 24 in Geneva for the start of actual negotiations between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and armed Syrian opposition groups.

Mattar said the negotiators would set the timeframe for the negotiations at the start and continue working through the weekend - and around the clock - until they are finished.

Brahimi is to meet on Friday with U.S. and Russian envoys to make final preparations for the conference including the selection of which nations will be invited.

The last U.N. estimate in July put the death toll from the 3-year-old Syrian civil war at 100,000, though activists more recently gave a figure of 120,000.

Along with 6.5 million internally displaced people, there are 2.3 million Syrians who have fled the country during the war. Most of those are scattered in refugee camps and informal settlements across Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. On Monday, the U.N. and other aid groups said they would need $6.5 billion to help the displaced Syrians in 2014, the largest-ever appeal for a single crisis.