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Monday, 30 March 2020

Syria peace talks head into second day

AFP , Tuesday 24 Jan 2017
Syria Talks
UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to the media during the second day of Syria peace talks at Astana's Rixos President Hotel on January 24, 2017 (Photo: AFP)
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Syrian rebels and their war-torn country's regime were heading into Day Two of peace talks in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on Tuesday, after a first day of negotiations yielded no apparent breakthrough.

"If things go well, as expected, today will be the final day," rebel spokesman Yehya al-Aridi told AFP, adding it was "not expected" that his delegation would meet face-to-face with the regime Tuesday after refusing to do so a day earlier.

Aridi said that his delegation would hold meetings with rebel backer Turkey and regime ally Russia, two of the talks' sponsors along with Iran.

The talks that kicked off Monday were billed as the first face-to-face negotiations between the regime and the armed opposition since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011.

But the rebels announced they were backing out of Monday's direct talks because of the regime's continued bombardment and attacks on a flashpoint outside the capital Damascus.

The two sides sat at the same table for the opening statements, but spent the rest of the day negotiating via mediators.

The rebels have insisted the talks focus on bolstering a frail truce brokered by Turkey and Russia last month, while the regime has called for a political solution to the nearly six-year conflict and for rebels to lay down their arms in exchange for an amnesty deal.

Rebel spokesman Osama Abu Zeid said ceasefire violations and threats of forced displacements were hindering the negotiations, and that the rebels would bring up the truce in Tuesday's talks.

In addition to having different objectives, the two sides also disagree about the role of the talks' three organisers, Russia, Turkey and Iran.

A member of the rebel delegation told AFP on Monday that the group would agree to have Russia serve as a guarantor of the current ceasefire but not Iran, another backer of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian regime, meanwhile, has said it would refuse to hold government-level talks with Turkey and sign any document bearing the signature of a Turkish official -- suggesting this would include any deal to come out of the talks.

The latest diplomatic initiative to end the bloodshed in Syria comes one month after regime forces, aided by Russia and Iran, delt a crushing blow to the rebels by retaking full control of second city Aleppo.

More than 310,000 people have been killed and more than half of the country's population displaced since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011 with protests against Assad's rule.

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