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Russia's Syria pullout will help reach settlement: UN envoy

AFP , Monday 14 Mar 2016
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Russia's decision to begin withdrawing from Syria will help Moscow's push to reach a political settlement, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations said Monday.

"Our diplomacy has received marching orders to intensify our efforts to achieve a political settlement in Syria," Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Syria.

"We are in the political mode now, in the cessation of hostilities mode."

President Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawal that will begin on Tuesday just as a new round of peace talks got under way in Geneva to try to end the five-year war.

"We think that our forces have operated very effectively," said Churkin.

"Our military presence will continue to be there. It will be directed mostly at making sure that the ceasefire, the cessation of hostilities is maintained," he added.

Russia launched the air strikes in September to root out the Islamic State group that controls part of Syria, but the military campaign mostly propped up Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Churkin declined to specify whether Moscow would halt all air strikes, saying instead that the forces staying behind will enforce the ceasefire that began in late February.

Russia has gained the upper hand in Syria with its military intervention, but diplomats say it remains unclear whether they can impose a settlement on Assad.

Churkin said he would inform the Security Council on Russia's withdrawal plan during a closed-door meeting called to hear UN envoy Staffan de Mistura report on the latest round of talks.

The UN-hosted negotiations in Geneva, which began on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict, are the latest effort to end violence that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.

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