Brahimi's Palestinian deputy Kidwa leaves Syria talks team

by Reuters
Monday, 3 February 2014 17:41 GMT

(Adds comment from Syrian opposition negotiator, context)

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

GENEVA, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Nasser al-Kidwa, deputy head of the international team running the Syria peace talks, has been removed from his job, diplomatic sources said on Monday, after repeated calls from the Syrian government for his dismissal.

"He has been sacked," one of the diplomats said.

Diplomats said Damascus, fighting an almost three-year-old uprising, had long objected to Kidwa, an ex-Palestinian foreign minister and nephew of Yasser Arafat, who was nominated by the Arab League and handled the opposition brief in the talks.

The Arab League suspended Syria from its membership two years ago and has long called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down in response to the uprising.

Diplomats said Kidwa's involvement in drafting the Geneva communique, the document underpinning the peace talks, and his close ties to opposition representatives may have contributed to his departure.

Diplomatic sources said chief mediator Lakhdar Brahimi's longstanding dislike of Kidwa did not work in his favour.

Kidwa's exit followed the first week-long session of talks, chaired by Brahimi, between the Syrian government and the opposition that ended on Friday. Brahimi has asked both sides to return for more talks on Feb. 10.

The United Nations confirmed Kidwa's departure and said he had informed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of his intention to leave his post as deputy to international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, effective this week.

Kidwa was named as a deputy to Brahimi's predecessor Kofi Annan in March 2012, and continued in the role under Brahimi.

"We do not know first-hand why Kidwa was sacked, but if he was removed because the regime has been objecting to him, then it undermines the spirit of the talks and confidence that the United Nations is working as an institution in its approach to the negotiations," Ahmad Jakal, a negotiator for the Syrian opposition at the Geneva talks, told Reuters.

Diplomats had previously said Kidwa's role was the subject of friction just before the Geneva talks began, since Assad's delegation had asked for him to be removed. (Additional reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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