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Sochi congress on Syria aided UN peace talks, says envoy


Sochi, Jan 31 (IANS/AKI) A Russian-hosted conference on Syria and co-sponsored by Turkey and Iran which many opposition groups shunned "made an important contribution" to the United Nations mediated peace talks being held in Geneva, UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura has said.
At the one-day conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, participants agreed to form a commission to draft a new Syrian Constitution, and to respect Syria's territorial democracy and the sovereignty of its people in deciding their form of government, according to a final statement.
De Mistura said he would "consult widely" and come up with the criteria for members of the constitutional commission who would be drawn from all sectors of Syrian society and should include tribal leaders and women.
No timeline was set for the appointment of the committee and its programme of work.
De Mistura thanked the conference for contributing to the Geneva peace process. He attended the meeting amid criticism from opposition groups who pointed out that its 1,500 delegates included few opponents of the Syrian government.
A statement approved by the conference delegates said a final agreement on criteria for selecting members, the constitutional committee's powers and its rules of procedure would be reached in Geneva under the UN's aegis.
Major opposition groups including the main Syrian opposition body - the High Negotiation Committee - boycotted Tuesday's Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in Sochi, as well as key rebel groups.
Opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refused to leave Sochi airport on arrival in protest at the conference logo that only featured the current Syrian flag and not the older Syrian one they have adopted as a symbol of revolution.
Ankara also blocked the participation of the main Kurdish group, which itself said it would not attend the congress in protest at the deadly Turkish offensive launched this month against the enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria.
The operation has so far claimed the lives of 61 civilians in Afrin, three in Turkish towns along the border and five Turkish soldiers, according to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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First Published: Jan 31 2018 | 11:26 PM IST

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