Syria talks end without deal on key constitutional body

The Syrian government and armed opposition groups have failed to agree on the makeup of a constitutional committee during two-day talks in Kazakhstan that were led by Russia along with Iranand Turkey.

The parties will discuss the issue further at the next United Nations(UN)-brokered talks in Geneva, the three cosponsors said in a joint statement after the talks in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan concluded on Friday.

Alexander Lavrentyev, the Russian negotiator, said the formation of the committee was “at the finish line”.

“The timing has not been agreed yet, taking into account the upcoming month of Ramadan, it is most likely to happen after that,” Lavrentyev told reporters on Friday.

“But I think by that time Mr [Geir] Pedersen [UN special envoy for Syria] will be able to announce” the establishment of the committee.

Forming a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end an eight-year war that has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced about half of Syria’s prewar population of 22 million.

Forming a constitutional committee is key to end an eight-year war [Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/Reuters]

The constitutional committee is of particular interest to the UN, which favours a Syrian-led resolution to the conflict.

Russia, a backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has taken the lead role in diplomatic efforts in Kazakhstan that have largely sidelined UN diplomacy in Geneva.

Tehran, like Moscow, is an ally of al-Assad, while Ankara has aligned itself with the rebels, but has repeatedly threatened to attack Kurdish fighters that it views as “terrorists” on the Syrian side of its southern border.

Separately on Friday, David Swanson, spokesman of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told AFP news agency that more than 7,000 people have left a desert camp for displaced Syrians near the Jordanian border since March.

About 36,000 people remained in the isolated Rukban camp near Al-Tanf base, used by the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group.

Those who have quit the camp have moved to collective shelters in the central city of Homs or resettled in their areas of origin in the province of the same name, according to OCHA.

It said Rukban residents were organising their own transportation to the edge of a de-escalation zone established around Al-Tanf, from where they either continued in their vehicles or were transferred by private or government-provided vehicles to four collective shelters in Homs city.

The Syrian government and Russia said in February they had opened corridors out of the camp, calling on residents to leave.