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UN envoy hails 'successful' constitutional committee talks in Damascus

Geir Pedersen hailed successful talks with the Syrian regime and opposition [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 September, 2019

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The UN envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, says that talks with the Syrian regime and opposition to form a new constitutional committee have been successful.
The UN special envoy for Syria said he held "successful" talks with Syrian regime foreign minister Walid Muallem on forming a committee to draft a post-war constitution on Monday.

"Today I have concluded another round of very successful discussions with Foreign Minister Moallem and we addressed all outstanding issues related to the constitutional committee," Geir Pedersen told reporters in Damascus.

The diplomat said he also held "good discussions" with Nasr al-Hariri, the head of the Syrian Higher Negotiations Committee opposition grouping, who said that the formation of the constitutional committee was "within striking distance".

The regime foreign ministry said the meeting with Pedersen was "positive and constructive", in a statement posted on its social media channels.

The UN-backed push to form a constitutional committee has been bogged down by disagreements with President Bashar al-Assad's regime over the makeup of body.

The committee is to include 150 members - a third picked by the regime, another by the opposition, and the remaining third by the United Nations.

The make up of the last third has been hotly contested by the regime.

Last week, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said an agreement had been reached concerning the "the composition of the committee".

The regime hopes to amend the current constitution, while the opposition wants to write a new one from scratch.

The Kurdish administration in northeast Syria on Monday decried its exclusion from the committee as "unjust", saying it undermined the principles of democracy.

Besides its composition, the mechanisms that will govern the committee's work have yet to be agreed on, prompting fears among diplomats that concrete progress is still months away.

According to the pro-regime daily Al-Watan, Pedersen could make a formal announcement on the constitutional committee at the UN General Assembly, which opens in New York this week.

Numerous rounds of UN-led peace talks have failed to end a war that has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.

The war began with the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests by the Assad regime, while regime bombardment of civilian areas has been the cause of most of the casualties.

In recent years, a parallel negotiations track led by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey has taken precedence over UN-led negotiations.

Numerous ceasefire and de-escalation agreements have come out as a result but most of these were broken by the Assad regime and Russia, who have now taken large parts of the country from rebels.

The regime currently controls around 60 percent of Syria, with the rebels confined to a relatively small area of north-western Syria centred around Idlib. Meanwhile, the remainder of the country is controlled by the Kurdish-led, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

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