Syria rebels will not attend Astana peace talks, says spokesman
BEIRUT/ASTANASyrian rebel factions will not attend a new round of negotiations with government figures in the Kazakh capital scheduled for March 14-15, an opposition delegation spokesman said, while the Kazakh foreign minister said Russia, Turkey and Iran were pressing ahead with the fresh round of Syria talks.
“Rebel groups have decided not to participate in Astana,” AFP quoted Osama Abu Zeid as saying, adding that one reason for the boycott was “unfulfilled pledges related to the cessation of hostilities.”
The third round of talks in Astana, sponsored by government ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey, is scheduled to begin on March 14.
The Astana track has aimed to reinforce a fragile cease-fire deal brokered by Moscow and Ankara in December last year.
“We decided not to participate in Astana because the reinforcement of the cease-fire was not implemented,” said Ahmad Othman, commander of the Ankara-backed Sultan Murad rebel group.
“The regime and the militias are continuing to bomb, displace, and besiege,” he told AFP, and rebel groups had informed the talks’ sponsors of their decision.
Syrian rebel groups called last week for the postponement of the talks and said further meetings would depend on whether the government and its allies adhered to a newly declared March 7-20 cease-fire.
Syrian state television on March 13 reported that the government delegation, headed by Syria’s representative to the U.N. Bashar al-Jaafari, had arrived in the Kazakh capital.
Jaafari has also led the government’s representatives in parallel U.N.-backed talks in Geneva.
“The delegations are arriving today to participate in the next round of the Astana process for resolving the situation in Syria,” Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said.
“For now, I cannot tell you who else will attend the talks,” he said.
“We are awaiting confirmations from the other parties to the meeting,” Abdrakhmanov told parliament, adding that delegations had already started arriving in the Kazakh capital, Astana.
A fresh round of negotiations in Switzerland is set to begin on March 23 and will focus on governance, the constitution, elections, counter-terrorism and possibly reconstruction, according to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura.
De Mistura had earlier said he expected negotiators in Astana “to actually address the issue of counter-terrorism” and discuss a “concrete possibility of the exchange of detainees and abducted people.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on March 13 discussed the Astana meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, according Lavrov’s office.
The Russian Foreign Ministry did not release details of the call.
Lavrov’s deputy Gennady Gatilov said March 13 that Moscow had “invited all the parties present at the previous meeting in Astana, and we hope that everyone who attended will also be present this time.”
He also said that Moscow was ready to resume contacts with the United States on Syria, the Interfax news agency reported.
“Up to this point, we’ve had no contacts with the U.S. on a political settlement in Syria,” Gatilov was quoted as saying.
“If the situation changes on the American side, we, of course, will be ready to resume consultations on Syrian matters, including those within the Geneva peace process.”
More than 320,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on March 13. Those killed included 96,000 civilians, of which over 17,000 were children, the monitor said.
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels have agreed to leave the Homs district of al-Waer with their families over the next few weeks, opposition media said on March 13, with state media quoting the governor of Homs province as saying the same.
Opposition-affiliated Orient News reported that negotiators from al-Waer had signed an agreement for rebel factions and their families to go to the area around Jarablus in northern Syria, held by Turkey-backed Syrian rebels.
The Homs Media Centre, run by opposition activists in Homs, also told Reuters that an agreement had been reached, but said the ultimate destination of the fighters had not been decided.
Fighters and their families would leave in batches for northern Syria, Homs governor Talal Barazi was quoted as saying on state television and by news agencies, with the first group going on March 17.