x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Syria peace talks unlikely before October 'because of other events', says Russia

An international peace conference on Syria – first announced by the US and Russia in May – 'will probably not happen in September because there will be other events," says Russia's deputy foreign minister.

MOSCOW // Russia has said an international peace conference on Syria is unlikely to take place before October, as opponents of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, announced a road map for the war-torn country after the fall of his regime.

The Russian deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, said Moscow and Washington would hold additional preparatory talks for the conference at the end of this month.

"It will probably not happen in September because there will be other events," Mr Gatilov said.

The so-called Geneva 2 talks were initially agreed upon in May by the US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russia, one of Mr Al Assad's strongest international backers, had initially proposed holding the talks by the end of May, but the date was repeatedly pushed back.

The negotiations are based on the results of a Syria peace conference held in Geneva in June last year, when world powers agreed on the need to establish a transitional government in Syria.

The road map announced yesterday by opposition activists, including members of the western-backed Syrian National Council (SNC), outlines measures for rebuilding the country in a post-Assad era.

The document is to be presented in full today, in the presence of the SNC president, Ahmad Jarba, but has not been officially endorsed by the key opposition group.

"National reconciliation will be achieved through a long transitional justice process in which justice is assured for all of Syria's victims," the group behind the move said.

The country's uprising began with peaceful anti-government demonstrations in March 2011, but has turned into a bloody war that has left more than 100,000 people dead.

Both sides have been accused of summary executions, sectarian killings and torture.

The road map also calls for restructuring Syrian security forces to uproot "corrupt officials".

"All armed groups will be disarmed, demobilised and reintegrated into Syrian society," the group said.

It is calling for a "hybrid presidential/parliamentary system" the country's political system after the fall of the current regime, and for war crimes tribunals to be held in Syria with international experts providing advice, for trials of all those accused of abuses

The group behind the proposal, Syrian Expert House, includes about 300 activists, lawyers and members of the National Coalition and SNC.

Defected government officials and rebel commanders also participated in the drafting process, the group said.

Meanwhile, government forces have killed at least 18 rebels in clashes in central Syria, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday the fighting took place overnight near the town of Morek in Hama province.

The town lies along the main highway that connects the capital, Damascus, with northern Syria.

The government has been battling rebels for control of the road for months.

Mr Al Assad's regime wants to keep the highway open so it can resupply its forces bogged down in fighting in the contested northern city of Aleppo.


* With reporting by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press