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UN hopes for progress in Syria constitution talks

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People wave opposition flags at a rally marking 11 years since the start of an anti-regime uprising, in the city of al-Bab in Syria’s northern Aleppo governorate on March 15. AFP

UN hopes for progress in Syria constitution talks

Talks on a new constitution for Syria resume late last week in Geneva, with the UN mediator hopeful of making headway.

Back in October, the sixth round of discussions between 15 representatives each from President Bashar al-Assad’s government, the opposition, and civil society, ended with no agreement on how to move things forward.

But UN envoy Geir Pedersen said the two co-chairs – from the government and the opposition – had now come up with an improved procedure for finding common ground on the final day of the talks, which will be on March 25.

“Syria remains one of the gravest crises in the world and there is a clear need for progress towards a political solution,” Pedersen told reporters on March 20.

The Syrian Constitutional Committee was created in September 2019 and first convened a month later.

The tentative negotiations are aimed at rewriting the war-torn country’s constitution. It is hoped the talks could pave the way towards a broader political process.

“The committee should work in a way that builds trust and confidence,” Pedersen said.

“During this session I hope to see the constitutional committee work with a sense of seriousness and purpose and determination to make progress that the situation demands.

“If the three delegations do what they have said they will do, I hope that we can see some steady progress.”

This seventh round of talks will focus on four principles: the basics of governance; state identity; state symbols; and the structure and functions of public authorities.

The delegates will spend one day working on each principle, before spending March 25 trying to concretise any advances made.

Ahmad Kuzbari, the head of the government delegation, and Syrian opposition negotiations leader Hadi al-Bahra, have co-chaired the talks thus far.

They traded barbs after October’s sixth round of talks, pointing the finger at each other for the lack of progress.

But Pedersen said the co-chairs had now reached an understanding on how business should proceed on the last day, namely a better mechanism for revisions of proposed constitutional texts.

“I’m looking forward to seeing on Friday how this will be put into practice,” the Norwegian diplomat said.

Pedersen met jointly with the co-chairs on March 20, during which they decided on the four topics to be discussed last week.

That was followed by the three of them holding talks with the 15 civil society representatives.

Pedersen said they were “good meetings” and “hopefully that will make it possible for us to make progress”.

Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011 after the violent repression of protests demanding regime change.

It quickly spiralled into a complex conflict that pulled in numerous actors, including jihadist groups and foreign powers. The war has left around half a million people dead, displaced millions and devastated its infrastructure.

Throughout the civil war, the UN has been striving to nurture a political resolution.

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