France stays away from Syria talks in Sochi

Wednesday, 31 Jan, 2018

The Syrian National Dialogue Congress has kicked off in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, a TASS correspondent reports.

A group of opposition delegates, including members of the armed opposition who had flown in from Turkey, made a decision to stay put at Sochi airport in protest at Syrian government flags and emblems that were on display at the airport.

"We were surprised that none of the promises were fulfilled, the brutal bombardment on the civilians didn't stop, the regime flags weren't removed from the conference banners, in addition to the lack of diplomatic manners from the hosting state", the rebels at the airport said in a statement.

The main objective of the event is to officially agree on a mechanism to draft a new Syrian Constitution.

"There have been some problems with an armed opposition group arriving from Turkey, which said its participation depended on additional requirements", Artem Kozhin of the Russian foreign ministry was quoted as saying. "If, as a result, the main political groups present will agree to initiate the submission of these proposals, this will be a serious breakthrough", Abzalov said.

A separate opposition delegation that flew into Sochi from Turkey has also refused to participate in the event until Russian Federation changed or removed the symbol of the congress, which features only the Syrian regime flag, AFP said, citing an unidentified rebel source.

The anti-Moscow chants were met with slogans in support of Russian Federation. Lavrov asked the demonstrators to allow him to finish his speech for they would have their chance to speak later in the day.

Participants who declined to be identified told Reuters that organizers had later been forced to suspend a plenary session due to squabbling among delegates over who would be chosen to preside over the congress.

They endorsed a "democratic" path for Syria through elections and called for respect for the country's territorial integrity, Reuters news agency reported, citing a final statement from the conference.

Mohammad Adnan, a member of the Syrian opposition based in Turkey, said on Tuesday that there were about 70 people waiting for a plane to take them back to Ankara. But according to France 24, the talks are part of Russia's "broader push to consolidate its influence in the Middle East and start hammering out a political solution to the conflict" that has bitterly divided Syria for seven years.

Turkey and Russian Federation, together with Iran, are the guarantor countries that brokered a cease-fire in Syria in December 2016, leading to the Astana talks which run parallel to the United Nations -backed discussions in Geneva to find a political solution to the civil war. France has that as an immediate objective.

In closing remarks, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said delegates had agreed to the formation of a committee to discuss the country's post-war constitution, including government delegates and representatives of the SNC, among others.