Syria opposition to skip Russia-sponsored peace conference

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura looks on before the start of talks on Syria in Vienna on Thursday

The Spokesman said that in making the decision to send his envoy, Mr. Guterres took into account Russia's assertion that the outcome of the Sochi meeting, which will be held on 29 and 30 January, would be brought to Geneva as a contribution to the UN-backed intra-Syrian talks, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254. Only 60,000 of the 2.5 million Syrians in "hard to reach" areas had received humanitarian aid, the United Nations chief said in his report on the humanitarian situation in Syria delivered Friday to the Security Council.

Next week, though, Russian Federation will host its Syrian National Dialogue Congress, to which both representatives of Syrian civil society as well as Kurds have been invited.

The two days of talks in Vienna come after eight previous rounds in Geneva during which the two sides failed to even meet each other - and these negotiations appeared likely to be no different.

Lavrov said the Sochi conference could push foward the political settlement in Syria.

Yahya al-Aridi, a spokesman for the opposition delegation at the Vienna talks on Syria, said Russian Federation had not provided the necessary commitment and that the Sochi conference was aimed at undermining the UN-led efforts.

He went on to add that care would be taken to ensure adequate representation of Syria's ethnic and religious components; and that final agreement is to be reached in the UN-led Geneva process on the mandate and terms of reference, powers, rules of procedure, and selection criteria for the composition of a Constitutional Committee.

Ayman al-Asemi, a member of the Free Syrian Army's military council, said late on Friday that Russian Federation had made a pledge to opposition negotiators in Vienna that it would press Damascus to enforce a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta.

"Russia is going to present in particular its project for a new Syrian constitution", said Adjar Kourtov, analyst at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI).

Government forces have mounted offensives against two remaining rebel pockets, Idlib in the northwest and eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

"The United Nations has to be put back in the middle of the game".

Syrian government negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari told reporters in Vienna it was "tantamount to a black comedy" that these countries were seeking to shape Syria's political future.

But risks for Syria remain, as seen by Turkey's incursion into the country to pursue Kurdish rebels it considers a terrorism risk. Syria's opposition group agrees and says it will boycott Sochi.

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