Syria Talks Kick off in Astana between Gov’t, Opposition
Syrian opposition groups are due to meet their country's government Monday in the Kazakh capital Astana, in the latest push to end the conflict.
Scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., the planned face-to-face talks would be the first time armed opposition groups have negotiated directly with President Bashar Assad's government since the conflict erupted in 2011.
The talks have been welcomed by all parties, but the two sides have arrived in Kazakhstan with apparently divergent ideas on the aim of the discussions, and officials have cast doubt on whether they will in fact sit down at the same table.
Opposition spokesman Yehya al-Aridi told AFP on Sunday there was "no final answer" on whether his team would sit down opposite the government.
Two hours ahead of the talks, Kazakh deputy foreign minister Roman Vasilenko told reporters the format was still under discussion.
Opposition groups have said the meeting will focus on bolstering a frail nationwide ceasefire brokered last month by opposition ally Turkey and government backer Russia.
But President al-Assad insisted that armed groups lay down their arms in exchange for an amnesty deal, and called for a "comprehensive" political solution to a conflict that has killed more than 310,000 and displaced more than half of Syria's population.
Organized by Turkey, Russia and Iran, the talks come a month after the government recaptured militant-held areas of Aleppo, scoring its biggest victory since the war began.
Chief opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush arrived in Astana Sunday accompanied by around a dozen militant figures including Fares Buyush of the Idlib Army, an AFP correspondent said.
"This is not a replacement for the Geneva process," Buyush told AFP, referring to the UN-hosted political negotiations set to resume in the Swiss city next month.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team