Rebel fighters hold a position on a front line in the Damascus suburb of Yalda on September 18, 2013
Rebel fighters hold a position on a front line in the Damascus suburb of Yalda on September 18, 2013 © Ward al-Keswani - Ward Al-Keswani/AFP
Rebel fighters hold a position on a front line in the Damascus suburb of Yalda on September 18, 2013
AFP
Last updated: December 17, 2013

Syria peace talks to open in Montreux

The long-delayed "Geneva II" peace conference for Syria will open in the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux because of a lack of hotel space in Geneva, the United Nations said Tuesday.

"The international conference on Syria... will be held due to logistical reasons... in Montreux," said Khawla Mattar, spokeswoman for UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who is trying to organise the conference.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month finally set January 22 as the date for the talks, which have been repeatedly postponed since June.

But a luxury watch fair will be taking place in Geneva at the same time.

The global elite will also begin gathering for the annual World Economic Forum which begins in the Swiss ski resort of Davos on January 22, many of them passing through Geneva.

As a result the city's hotels are fully booked, leading organisers to look for alternatives.

Montreux was decided upon, Mattar said, because of a variety of reasons, including security considerations and the availability of hotel space in the scenic town at the other end of Lake Geneva known for its jazz festival.

The conference centre at the Montreux Palace will only host the first day of high-level talks on January 22, hosted by Ban and including all invited country delegations.

Negotiations between the two Syrian delegations and Brahimi will then continue at the UN's European headquarters in Geneva on January 24 but it has not been decided how long the talks will continue, Mattar said.

More than 126,000 people have been killed in the 33-month conflict pitting forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad against rebels fighting to topple his regime.

Around 2.4 million refugees have already fled, mainly to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

Montreux is just over an hour's train ride from Geneva, but Brahimi said in a television interview this month that people who come to Geneva are often unwilling to accept a long commute.

"If you go to New York, you know that it will take you an hour or two to get into town, and you accept that," he told public broadcaster Swiss RTS.

"In Geneva you are used to being just 10 minutes from the airport, so if we told people they would have to travel for an hour and 15 minutes, they would say, oh la la."

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