Remote Swedish farmhouse hosts UN leaders

BACKÅKRA, Sweden—The United Nations Security Council is meeting in a secluded farmhouse on the southern tip of Sweden on Saturday in a bid to overcome deep divisions over how to end the war in Syria.

In a first for the council, which normally holds its annual brainstorming session in upstate New York, the 15 ambassadors and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have this year been invited to hold its informal meeting in Backakra by Sweden, a non-permanent member of the body.

The presence of the UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was not yet confirmed. 

The farmhouse is the summer residence of Dag Hammarskjold, the United Nations’ second secretary-general who died in a plane crash in Africa in 1961. 

Situated in the heart of a nature reserve, just a stone’s throw from the Baltic Sea, the farmhouse consists of four buildings around a courtyard and has been completely renovated in recent years. 

The southern wing serves as the summer residence for the Swedish Academy which awards the Nobel Literature Prize. 

With both New York and Damascus thousands of kilometers away, the council will explore “the means to strengthen and make more effective United Nations peacekeeping missions,” the Swedish government said. 

Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, welcomed the decision to hold the meeting in Sweden, “where there is a long tradition of peaceful conflict prevention and resolution”.

The country’s deputy UN Ambassador Carl Skau said the idea was “to recreate dialogue” and “relaunch momentum” with “humility and patience”, a week after the air strikes by France, Britain and the US against the Syrian regime.

Security personnel patrol ahead of the arrival of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Ystad, southern Sweden on Saturday, to attend a meeting with the UN Security Council on Syria.  The meeting will take place at Backakra, the estate of former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold. AFP
“It’s important for the council’s credibility,” Skau told reporters in New York. 

While the war in Syria was not the main topic of the deliberations, it would figure high up on the agenda, because it was an issue that divided council members deeply in recent months. 

Skau said Backakra was a “fitting and inspiring venue” to reconnect with the power of diplomacy.

“It’s a place to roll up our sleeves, take off our jackets and ties and come up with some real and meaningful ways forward,” he said.

- ‘No excessive hopes’ -

The air strikes by the three western powers on April 14 targeted three sites, which the countries argued were used by the regime of Bashar al-Assad for a chemical weapons programme.

Syria is accused of using chemical weapons in an attack a week earlier in Douma, the last rebel stronghold near Damascus. 

Assad and Russian allies have denied that Syria was responsible for the attack, which according to rescuers, left more than 40 people dead. But the western powers insist that the Syrian regime had crossed a red line. 

The air strikes, carried without a Security Council resolution, have led to fierce tensions between Russia, a permanent member, and the US, France, Britain and China. 

Moscow has used its veto on the council 12 times since 2011. 

On Friday, Swedish foreign minister Wallstrom warned against nurturing “excessive hopes that the entire (Syrian) issue will be resolved” this weekend. 

“Above all, we need to have time to talk about the long-term role of the Security Council and the United Nations in the Syrian conflict,” she said. 

A fact-finding mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to the Syrian town of Douma is currently held up in Damascus.

Some non-member countries are critical about the trip to Sweden.

With the conflicts the council has on its table, including the one in Syria, it is abnormal that the Council would travel so far, said one ambassador, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

“What will happen if something bad happens?” the ambassador asked.

Topics: United Nations Security Council , farmhouse , Secretary-General Antonio Guterres , Dag Hammarskjold
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