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Russian-backed Syria talks derail

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Author: ReutersWed, 2017-03-15ID: 1489521989637863700MOSCOW/ASTANA: Russian-led peace talks on Syria were derailed on Tuesday as fighters backed by Turkey boycotted a third round of meetings in Kazakhstan and the Kremlin indicated there were international divisions over the process. Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally, said the fighters’ reasons for staying away were unconvincing and their decision came as a surprise. Describing the fighters as Turkish proxies, the Syrian government envoy said Ankara had broken “its commitments” to the Astana process.The fighters said on Tuesday they would not attend the talks, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, because of what they called Russia’s unwillingness to end airstrikes on fighter-held areas and its failure to get the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militia to abide by a cease-fire.Russia has sought to revive diplomacy over Syria since its air force helped government forces defeat fighter groups in eastern Aleppo in December.The cooperation of Turkey, one of the main backers of fighter groups in northern Syria, has been crucial to the Russian diplomatic effort, helping to broker a cease-fire in December after the fighters’ Aleppo defeat.Two previous rounds of Astana talks have sought to consolidate that cease-fire, reflecting an improvement in Russian-Turkish ties that had been strained to breaking point by the Syrian war.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Russian Defense Ministry was in touch with Syrian fighters who boycotted the talks, the Interfax news agency reported. He said Russia was dealing with the situation.The Kremlin spokesman described the talks as hugely complex. “Sometimes the situation at these talks is really complicated because of substantial differences in approaches of various countries,” Dmitry Peskov said during a conference call.Russian President Vladimir Putin had credited the Kazakhstan talks, which focus on reducing the fighting, with jumpstarting UN-led peace talks in Geneva seeking a political settlement to the six-year conflict.The Geneva talks broke off without any progress as seemingly unbridgeable divisions persist, chiefly over the future of Assad who seems militarily unassailable in the areas of western Syria under government control.The previous Astana talks had been attended by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters. A spokesman for the fighters on Monday accused Russia of “continuing its crimes” against civilians in Syria — a reference to Russian airstrikes — and of supporting “the crimes of the Syrian regime.”The spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, which groups armed and political opponents of Assad, suggested the fighters could yet go to Astana, though the decision was so far not to. The fighters said Russia has failed to live up to its commitments as a guarantor of the cease-fire, adding that the government and allied forces continue to press attacks on remaining fighter-held areas in western Syria.The Syrian government envoy to the talks said his delegation was in Astana to meet Syria’s Russian and Iranian allies, not the fighter factions.“When one of the three guarantors breaks their commitment — and I mean Turkey — this means that Turkey must be the one that is asked about the non-attendance or participation of these armed groups,” Bashar Al-Ja’afari, the envoy, said in broadcast remarks from Astana.Last week, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was in Moscow seeking to build cooperation with Putin over military operations in Syria.Turkey is attempting to create a border “safe zone” in northern Syria free of Daesh and Kurdish militias.
Main category: Middle-East

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