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Start of Syria talks in Kazakh capital delayed by one day

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ASTANA (Reuters) – The late arrival of the Syrian rebel delegation in the Kazakh capital Astana has put off the start of Syrian crisis talks involving Russia, Iran and Turkey by one day until Thursday, sources said on Wednesday.

Separately, a spokeswoman for United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura – who had also been invited and attended the previous Astana meeting in January – said he would not attend the negotiations.

Syrian rebels have threatened this week to boycott the talks, accusing Russia of failing to get Damascus to comply fully with a ceasefire or take any confidence-building steps.

However, a rebel official who had attended the previous round of Astana talks in January said on Wednesday a small delegation including military and legal representatives would attend to discuss the ceasefire plan put forward last month.

Two sources close to the talks said the rebel delegation had not arrived in Astana in time to start the meetings on Wednesday, which prompted the delay – announced officially without any explanation.

One of the sources also said the sides hoped that talks on Thursday would produce a joint document.

Kazakhstan, Moscow’s close political ally, said last week the negotiations would focus on consolidating the ceasefire.

Delegations of the Damascus government and the rebels who attended the previous round of Astana talks refused to negotiate directly with each other or sign any documents at the time.

A new round of broader, U.N.-backed peace talks is due to begin in Geneva next week.

The main Syrian opposition body said on Wednesday it wanted face-to-face negotiations with the Damascus government about a political transition at the Geneva talks.

Salim al-Muslit, spokesman of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), also told Reuters the opposition was sticking to its position that President Bashar al-Assad can have no role in the transition, saying “the heavy price paid by the Syrian people” would have been wasted if he remained in power.

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Raushan Nurshayeva; Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Tom Heneghan)



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