UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura to step down in November

Envoy vows to step up effort to get agreement on committee to draft Syria's constitution before he resigns next month.

    Staffan de Mistura is stepping down after four years in one of the UN's toughest jobs [File: Xu Jinquan/Pool via Reuters]
    Staffan de Mistura is stepping down after four years in one of the UN's toughest jobs [File: Xu Jinquan/Pool via Reuters]

    The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has announced he will step down at the end of November after more than four years in the key post.

    The Italian Swedish diplomat, who became the UN's third Syria envoy in July 2014, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday he was leaving for "purely personal reasons". 

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

    De Mistura said he will be making an intensive effort to get agreement on a committee to draft a new constitution for war-torn Syria before he resigns next month.

    Objections by the Syrian government are still holding up the launch of that committee, he said.

    His 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. 

    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, the AFP news agency reported, citing UN diplomats.

    'Mission impossible'

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

    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". 

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

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

    "We will continue asking until we are red in the face, blue in the face for both sides ... to stop shelling each other's area," de Mistura told reporters about a ceasefire effort earlier this year. 

    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 showed tenacity in the job.  

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

    He was consumed in recent weeks with preventing a bloodbath in Idlib, the last rebel-held region in Syria, engaging in conversations with stakeholders from Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria.

    In his efforts to put an end to Syria's seven years of violence, de Mistura navigated between world powers Russia and the US, regional players - Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran - as well as the feuding factions within Syria. 

    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.  

    On Wednesday, he reiterated that there is agreement on 50-member government and opposition delegations - but the government objects to the 50-member delegation the UN put together representing Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.

    De Mistura said will go to Damascus next week to discuss the committee's formation.

    SOURCE: News agencies