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Syrian opposition says will boycott Russia-brokered peace talks in Sochi

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Updated: 04:24 GMT, Jan 28, 2018 | Published: 04:07 GMT, Jan 27, 2018 |
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Bashar al-Jaafari (C) is pictured ahead the start of talks on Syria in Vienna

The Syrian opposition will not attend a peace conference Russia is hosting next week, a spokesman said on Saturday, dismissing the meeting as an attempt by the Syrian government’s close ally to “sideline” the current United Nations peace process.

He was speaking at the end of two days of U.N.-brokered talks between the Syrian government and opposition, after which the host said the United Nations had not decided whether to attend the conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Western powers and some Arab states believe Sochi is an attempt to create a separate peace process that would undermine the United Nations’ efforts while laying the groundwork for a solution more suitable to Assad and his allies Russia and Iran.

“This whole round in Vienna was supposed to be a crucial one, a test for commitment. And we didn’t see this commitment. And the U.N. didn’t see this commitment,” said Yahya al-Aridi, a spokesman for the opposition delegation at the Vienna talks.

Nine rounds of U.N. peace talks between the warring sides have made little progress toward ending the civil war in which hundreds of thousands have been killed and 11 million – a majority of the Syrian population – driven from their homes.

Previous rounds of talks have been held sporadically in Geneva, with a mandate to discuss new elections, reformed governance, a new constitution and the fight against terrorism.

Having regained the upper hand on the battlefield after nearly seven years of conflict, Assad appears unwilling to negotiate with his enemies at all, let alone step down as part of any peaceful solution as rebels and opposition groups have demanded.

“It’s quite clear that somebody there is obstructing the whole process and wanting to sideline the importance of Geneva, the political process as a whole,” al-Aridi said.

As the talks dragged into Friday evening, another spokesman for the opposition said it had received a pledge from Russia that it would press the Syrian army to enforce a ceasefire in the besieged rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

Syrian army and Russian jets have for the last two months been escalating their bombardment of the area, killing dozens of civilians and injuring hundreds, rebels and aid workers say.

With Aridi later announcing that the opposition would not attend the talks, it was unclear where that left the ceasefire plan.

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