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UN Envoy Blames Syria as Talks Fail    10/28 06:07

   

   UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. special envoy for Syria said Wednesday the 
Syrian government's refusal to negotiate on revisions to the country's 
constitution is a key reason for the failure of talks last week that left the 
road map to peace in the conflict-torn country in question..

   Geir Pedersen expressed his disappointment to the U.N. Security Council, 
saying the parties also failed to agree to meet again before the end of the 
year. But he said he will continue to engage with all "to address the 
challenges that have arisen," saying it is urgent to produce results.

   Pedersen said the government delegation presented a proposed constitutional 
text on Syria's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity on Oct. 18, 
representatives of the exiled opposition presented a text on the armed forces, 
security and intelligence agencies on Oct. 19, while civil society groups 
submitted a section on the rule of law on Oct. 20. The government submitted a 
second text on terrorism and extremism on Oct. 21, he said.

   Pedersen said the government and opposition co-chairs were unable to agree 
on how discussions should progress further at a plenary meeting Oct. 22, but 
they did agree that the parties, which include civil society representatives, 
could present further material.

   "In that meeting, the delegation nominated by the government stated that it 
had no revisions to present of its draft constitutional texts and that it did 
not see any common ground," the U.N. envoy said.

   He said the opposition presented proposed amendments to all the proposals to 
try to build common ground, and some civil society representatives also 
presented revised versions.

   The end result, Pedersen said, is that the 45-member drafting committee was 
"not able to move from submitting and discussing initial draft constitutional 
texts to developing a productive textual drafting process."

   Despite the failure, Pedersen said he remains convinced "that progress on 
the constitutional committee could, if done the right way, help to build some 
trust and confidence."

   "But let me stress that this requires real determination and the political 
will to try to build some common ground," he said.

   The talks last week followed a nine-month hiatus in the U.N.-led meetings of 
the Syrian constitutional committee.

   Syria's 10-year conflict has killed between 350,000 and 450,000 people and 
displaced half the country's pre-war population of 23 million, including more 
than 5 million refugees mostly in neighboring countries. Even though the 
fighting has subsided in recent months, there are still pockets controlled by 
Syrian opposition, where millions of people live.

   Pedersen said that while the talks were under way, violence continued, 
including terrorist attacks, airstrikes and heavy artillery shelling that 
caused casualties, including dozens of civilians. He said some incidents "also 
underlined the constant risks of regional escalation" and again called for a 
nationwide cease-fire.

   The U.N. envoy said more than 12 million Syrians remain displaced, either 
inside the country or as refugees elsewhere, and the level of poverty is around 
90%.

   At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was 
reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution, with a 
smaller 45-member body to do the actual drafting including 15 members each from 
the government, opposition and civil society. It took until September 2019 for 
the committee to be formed.

   A 2012 U.N. road map to peace in Syria approved by representatives of the 
United Nations, Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five permanent 
Security Council members calls for the drafting of a new constitution and ends 
with U.N.-supervised elections with all Syrians, including members of the 
diaspora, eligible to participate. A Security Council resolution adopted in 
December 2015 unanimously endorsed the road map.

   The United States and several Western allies have accused Syrian President 
Bashar Assad of deliberately stalling and delaying the drafting of a new 
constitution until after a presidential election in late May to avoid a 
U.N.-supervised vote, as called for by the Security Council. Assad was 
re-elected in what the government called a landslide for a fourth seven-year 
term, but the West and the Syrian opposition called it an illegitimate and sham 
election.

 
 
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