Syrian govt rejects UN-led committee to alter Constitution

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (centre) speaking during the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, Russia, on Jan 30, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DAMASCUS (REUTERS) - Syria's government on Tuesday (Feb 13) rejected efforts led by the United Nations to form a committee to rewrite Syria's Constitution, the main result of a peace congress among Syrian groups in Russia last month.

"As a state, we are not bound by, nor have any relation with, any committee that is not Syrian formed, led and constituted," said Mr Ayman Soussan, an assistant to the Syrian Foreign Minister, at a press conference in Damascus.

"We are not bound by anything that is formed by foreign sides, whatever their name or state, we are not bound by it and it is of no concern to us," he added.

Participants at the Sochi congress, a centrepiece of diplomatic efforts by Damascus' ally Russia to end the war, agreed on Jan 30 to set up the constitutional committee in Geneva and to hold democratic elections in Syria.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said at Sochi that he would decide the criteria for committee members and select about 50 people from government, opposition and independent groups.

The main opposition negotiating group, which boycotted the Sochi meeting, said afterwards that it would cooperate with the formation of a constitutional committee so long as it would be under UN auspices.

Syria's government said at the time that it welcomed the results of the Sochi meeting, but it made no mention then of the constitutional committee or call for democratic elections.

"De Mistura is a facilitator and not a mediator or a stand-in for other parties," Mr Soussan said on Tuesday.

Nine rounds of UN-sponsored peace talks, most of them in Geneva, have failed to bring Syria's warring sides together after seven years of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.

Russia has pushed a parallel diplomatic process that is regarded with suspicion by much of the Syrian opposition.

President Bashar al-Assad's government in 2012 announced voters had overwhelmingly approved a new Constitution in a referendum, conducted amid civil war bloodshed, that was derided as a sham by Mr Assad's critics at home and abroad.

The new basic law maintained real power in the presidency but dropped a clause that in effect granted Mr Assad's Baath Party a monopoly on power.

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