Published: Tue, January 30, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

First delegates arrive in Sochi forward of Syrian Dialogue Congress

First delegates arrive in Sochi forward of Syrian Dialogue Congress

Following technical talks on January 29, the congress aims to bring Syria closer to creating a post-war constitution, after two days of separate talks backed by the United Nations in Vienna last week closed without any sign the warring sides had met face-to-face to discuss the groundwork for the document.

Lebanese Ambassador to Russia Chawki Bou Nassar will lead his country's delegation to the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Russia's Sochi, an embassy source told TASS on Monday.

According to a report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, the conflict has claimed the lives of over 470,000 people, injured 1.9 million others, and displaced almost half of the country's pre-war population of about 23 million within or beyond its borders.

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The talks are already being boycotted by the Syrian opposition and the Kurds.

While the government will not be represented as such at the congress, President Bashar al-Assad's ruling Baath Party and other allied movements are attending.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a January 29 call that the boycott of the conference by the opposition was not a serious hindrance.

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The violence overshadows Sochi's congress. Syria's war has killed more than 340,000 people and displaced millions since it began in March 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests. "France will not participate in the work being carried out there", the spokesman said.

"Our collective focus must remain on the UN-led political process in Geneva and we will remain engaged with the United Nations ‎and other parties, including Russian Federation, to encourage all possible efforts to advance the political track". That process has been jointly sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey, and the three countries held separate consultations in the run-up to the Sochi talks. Only a fraction of the invitees are set to participate in the event, however, according to a list of participants seen by AFP, which has about 350 people on it.

Moscow, which has spearheaded rounds of talks from the start of a year ago in Kazakhstan's Astana, initially hoped to convene the congress in Sochi last November but those efforts collapsed following a lack of agreement among co-sponsors. French officials say Russian Federation only extended an invitation to attend on the sidelines of the Sochi conference. The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will take part in the Congress after accepting Moscow's invitation days before the event.

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