Russia's Lavrov heckled as Syria peace talks in Sochi crumble

A Russia-engineered peace conference aimed at bringing together warring factions in Syria has been fruitless, with th...

Posted: Jan 31, 2018 12:32 AM
Updated: Jan 31, 2018 12:32 AM

A Russia-engineered peace conference aimed at bringing together warring factions in Syria has been fruitless, with the main opposition figures snubbing the talks and those who did attend walking out.

Opposition members who took part in the conference at the Black Sea resort of Sochi heckled Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday during his speech before the walkout, video posted online by the Foreign Ministry shows.

Organizers of the summit had hoped the talks would lead to a new draft constitution for Syria and bring an end to sanctions imposed on the state.

A final statement said the Syrian National Dialogue Congress "affirmed respect and full commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria," according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

"The State is committed to national unity, social peace and comprehensive and balanced development with fair representation at the local administration level," the statement said. "Boosting the work of governmental and public institutions, protecting the infrastructure of private properties and society, and providing public services to all citizens in accordance with the high standards of management and gender equality."

Russia is the most powerful ally of President Bashar al-Assad and his government. Along with Turkey and Iran, it is pursuing its own peace process for Syria while the UN backs a separate plan.

Russia has faced questions over its role as peacemaker. Western countries, including the US, France and Britain, have all boycotted the Russian-brokered talks and back the UN plan.

Read: Nikki Haley says Russia is complicit in Syrian atrocities

In a statement released Sunday, Nasser Al Hariri, who represents a separate umbrella group of Syrian political opponents as well as opposition fighters, said the High Negotiation Committee would not attend, instead maintaining a commitment to the UN-backed process.

Airport protest

Other Syrian opposition members based in Turkey staged a protest, refusing to leave the Sochi airport on arrival when they saw pictures of the Syrian flag. The members delegated Turkey to represent them in the negotiations.

"The opposition delegation representatives came to Sochi from Ankara to push the peace process and to reach a serious political transition that turns Syria to a democracy and ensures that Syrians have their freedom and dignity in a peaceful environment throughout the country," Ahmad Touma, leader of the delegation, told reporters at the airport.

"But we were surprised that none of the promises made has been fulfilled. The barbaric shelling of civilians has not stopped. The regime flags were not removed from the conference banner and logo.

"We stayed at the airport refusing to enter under the regime flags and banners and due to the lack of diplomatic decency from the host country. This is why we have decided not to participate in the Sochi conference and are boycotting it and will be returning to Ankara."

Following the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, agreed to establish a constitution commission composed of delegates elected at the forum and representatives who didn't attend the talks, according to Russia's state-run Sputnik news outlet.

"This new structure -- the constitutional committee for the preparation of the Syrian constitution -- will operate in Geneva," Lavrov said, according to Sputnik.

The minister added, "The Congress approved the statement on the foundations and principles of the future national-state structure in Syria. These principles are not revolutionary, these are the key norms of international law -- respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of Syria, ensuring the rights of all ethnic and confessional groups, ensuring the political process that will leave no one behind, and which will allow the Syrians themselves to determine their own destiny, without any outside interference."

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