• Syrians brace for fresh talks

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    GENEVA: Syria’s warring sides headed on Monday into a new round of United Nations (UN)-brokered peace talks, 10 days after a debut session managed little beyond a pledge on evacuating civilians from the besieged city of Homs.

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    After government and opposition delegates arrived at their Geneva hotels on Sunday, they held separate closed-door meetings with UN and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

    The Algerian veteran peacemaker, who in late January brought the two sides to the table for the first time since the war began in 2011, was scheduled to hold talks with the opposition at 10 a.m. (9 a.m. in Manila) on Monday.

    Then at 11:30, he was to meet with the government delegation, helmed by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who was also in charge of the regime’s team in the first round.

    It was not clear if the two sides would sit down together on Monday for a meeting under the auspices of Brahimi, nor how many days the round was expected to last.

    The so-called Geneva II talks—spurred by the United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, a key ally of Syria—mark the biggest international push so far to end the war.

    The aim is to build on an international conference held in the Swiss city in 2012 at which world powers called for political transition in Syria.

    That plan was never implemented, however, owing to spiralling fighting in Syria’s increasingly sectarian conflict, and deep divisions between the two sides over what a transition would imply.

    The regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whose crackdown on Arab Spring inspired demonstrations in March 2011, insists that his future cannot be up for discussion in Geneva.

    But the opposition counters that there is no place for him or his entourage in a future Syria.

    Besides appearing far from reaching any compromise on how to craft a transition government, the two sides also disagree on which of a string of other issues should be on the table.

    AFP

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