Tue, 24 Nov 2020

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 28 (Xinhua) -- United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said Tuesday that he is hoping a fourth round of Syrian constitutional talks will take place in November in Geneva, after the Syrian government and opposition negotiators failed to agree on the agenda.

The so-called Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee was supposed to have reconvened this month, Pedersen told a video-teleconference meeting of the UN Security Council, during which he again called for greater efforts towards a ceasefire in the country.

However, while the government wanted the agenda to focus on national foundations and principles, the opposition, represented by the Syrian Negotiation Commission, preferred to keep attention on the preamble, constitutional principles, rights and freedom, and the structure of the proposed new constitution, according to Pedersen.

"As facilitator, I proposed over a month ago a bridging compromise," he said, adding recent days have seen "some valuable narrowing of differences" that could pave the way to consensus between the co-chairs on the agenda for the next two meetings.

"Of course, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but assuming full agreement is confirmed, the plan would be to reconvene on Nov. 23 in Geneva," he added.

The envoy stressed that progress in the Syrian Constitutional Committee, which last met in August after a nine-month hiatus, could open the door to deeper and wider progress if participants work continuously, and if their efforts are matched by confidence-building steps by Syrian parties and international players.

Without a political deal to implement Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015), which calls for a ceasefire and political settlement to the Syrian conflict, "dangers will only accrue," he noted.

Although frontlines have not shifted in eight months and the number of civilian fatalities has been reportedly at lowest levels since 2011, violence continues across Syria, including a targeted airstrike Monday in north-west Syria followed by retaliatory shelling on Tuesday, with both incidents having reportedly caused casualties, he said.

Meanwhile, tensions persist among the five foreign militaries active in Syria, while Security Council-listed terrorist groups, including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh), remain a significant danger, the envoy added.

"Despite these incidents, frontlines are not changing and it ought to be possible to work towards a nationwide ceasefire while ensuring that significant continuing dangers posed by proscribed terrorist groups are addressed cooperatively and effectively, and in line with international humanitarian law," he said.

The 150-member Syrian Constitutional Committee, officially launched in Geneva in 2019, is a key part of the UN's effort for a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led end to a devastating conflict that has seen over 5 million Syrians flee the country, 6 million internally displaced and 13 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

It is made up of equal number of delegates from the Syrian government, opposition and civil society, with its 45-member Small Body tasked with undertaking key preparatory work.

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