Syrian regime, opposition representatives meet for constitution talks
Members of Syria's Constitutional Committee, tasked with amending their war-torn country's constitution, met at the UN in Geneva on Monday for the first time since previous talks broke down in November.
Delegations from President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the Syrian opposition and civil society arrived at the United Nations in separate mini-vans, with all officials wearing facemasks, to start a week of discussions.
Ahmad Al-Kuzbari, who is leading the regime's delegation, and Hadi Al-Bahra, who heads the opposition envoy, both waved as they entered the building but did not speak to reporters gathered outside.
A UN spokeswoman confirmed that shortly before noon that the week-long session had begun.
UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said on Sunday he had met with co-chairs of the regime and opposition delegations and with civil society representatives over the weekend.
"I am looking forward to a week of substantial discussions on the agenda and moving the process forward," the Norwegian diplomat said on Twitter.
The full constitutional review committee is made up of 150 delegates divided equally between the regime, opposition and civil society blocs.
Only 15 members from each group were due to take part in this week's small-scale meeting.
The Constitutional Committee was created in September last year and first convened a month later.
A second round of talks, planned for late November, never got going after the regime deliberately stalled negotiations by refusing to propose an agenda and trying to force the opposition to sign a document condemning Turkey.
The breakdown in the talks was followed by a bloody regime and Russian assault on Idlib province, the last remaining area of Syria to be held by anti-Assad rebels.
Since then, talks have been delayed by the coronavirus crisis.
Yahia Al-Aridi, a member of the opposition's delegation, told the Arabic news website Arabi 21 on Sunday that he could see no significant obstacles to the current round of talks but could also not guarantee progress due to the behaviour of the regime in previous negotiations.
"We assume, as a matter of course, that the regime is not serious about the talks and that it will try to obstruct the Constitutional Committee meetings as much as it can, like it did in the past. If it can, it will try to use any changes on the ground as a means to derail the political process," he said.
Syria's nine year conflict, which broke out when the Assad regime brutally suppressed pro-democracy protests in 2011, has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced more than 11 million. Most of the casualties are due to regime bombardment of civilian areas.
The constitutional review is a central part of the UN's peace plan for Syria, which was defined by Security Council resolution 2254, adopted in December 2015.
Pedersen on Friday stressed the urgent need to build confidence between the parties.
He told reporters nobody expected "a miracle or a breakthrough"; rather the meeting is about looking towards identifying areas where progress might be made.
Agencies contributed to this report.