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Russia's showpiece Syria congress marked by boycotts, little

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AFP Sochi (Russia)
Russia's showpiece Syria congress has aimed to bring seven years of war closer to an end but closed without a significant breakthrough after a string of boycotts and last-minute cancellations.

Around 1,400 delegates attended the meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, as part of a broader push by regime- backer Moscow to consolidate its influence in the Middle East and start hammering out a political solution to the conflict.

But expectations for the event were dramatically lowered over the weekend after the Syrian Negotiations Committee (SNC), the main opposition group, and the country's Kurdish minority said they would boycott the talks.

The conference suffered a further setback last morning when rebel representatives, who had flown in from Turkey the previous night, said they would not go further than Sochi airport because the conference logo featured only regime flags.

In closing remarks, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said delegates had agreed to the formation of a committee to discuss the country's post-war constitution including government delegates and representatives of the SNC, among others.

He said the UN would lead efforts to form the committee but did not specify how this would happen. A ninth round of UN-backed talks ended in Vienna last week without the warring sides having met face to face.

A copy of the final statement, seen by AFP in Arabic, did not mention the fate of Moscow's ally President Bashar al- Assad.

The SNC accused Assad and his Russian backers of continuing to rely on military might and showing no willingness to enter into honest negotiations as it announced it would not attend Sochi.

Authorities from Syria's Kurdish autonomous region said at the weekend they would also boycott the event because of the ongoing offensive on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin by Turkey, which was co-sponsoring the Sochi congress along with Iran.

Moscow had said Syrian society would be fully represented at the meeting -- the first of its kind held in Russia -- but almost all those confirmed as attending were from either Assad's Baath Party, allied movements or the regime's "tolerated opposition".

The hosts did not provide a full list of delegates.

Neil Hauer, an independent analyst focused on Russia and Syria who was in Sochi for the congress, told AFP bringing the Kurds to their first major international Syria summit would have been one of Moscow's primary goals.

"They put a lot of political capital into this and negotiated for months, and it has been a flop," Hauer said, describing the no-shows at the talks as an "embarrassment".

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First Published: Jan 31 2018 | 2:40 AM IST

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