Astana talks starts without Syrian armed opposition group

Indo Asian News Service

Astana, March 15 (IANS) A third round of Syrian peace talks got under way here without the participation of the armed opposition, who refused to travel after accusing Moscow and Damascus of breaking a ceasefire in force since December.

"I would not put too much emphasis on the participation of the Syrian armed opposition. The most important are the consultations between the guarantor countries of the ceasefire (Russia, Iran and Turkey)," Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said on Tuesday.

However, a participant in the negotiations told Russian media that the meeting, scheduled for March 14-15, could be extended beyond Wednesday should the main opposition groups decide to join the Astana talks, Efe news reported.

According to several sources cited by Russian media, the heads of the Syrian armed groups are planning to meet in Ankara later on Tuesday to decide if they will go to the Kazakh capital to participate in the plenary meeting scheduled for the following day.

The spokesman for the rebel faction Suqour al-Sham Maamoun Haj Mousa told Efe on Monday that his group would not engage in any kind of dialogue, including the UN-backed Geneva talks, unless the Syria and Russia changed their tactics.

The decision not to attend "was taken by all the factions", Mousa said.

Meanwhile, Astana-3 has started with bilateral consultations between the delegations of Russia and Turkey on the one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other.

--IANS

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