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Syrian talks to resume despite virus cases: UN

By AFP

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Syrian MP Ahmad al-Kuzbari (4th R) wearing a protective face mask looks on upon his arrival with the Syrian government delegation for a meeting of Syria Constitutional Committee at the UN Office in Geneva on August 24th. Members of Syria's Constitutional Committee will be meeting for the first time since last November, following delays brought on by the coronavirus crisis. [Fabrice Coffrini/AFP]

UN-backed talks on a new constitution for Syria were to resume in Geneva on Thursday (August 27th) after Swiss health authorities gave the green light despite four delegates testing positive for COVID-19.

The discussions, aimed at rewriting the war-torn country's constitution, were put on hold almost as soon as they started on Monday when the test results came through.

UN envoy Geir Pedersen, who is moderating the tentative talks between representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's government, the opposition and civil society, has voiced hope they could help pave the way towards a broader political process.

His office said in a statement that "following additional testing and further medical and expert advice regarding four earlier positive tests for COVID-19", Swiss authorities had determined the meeting could go ahead.

The talks would resume at 2:00 p.m. "with full social distancing and related precautions in place", it said.

'Equal rights'

Before they began on Monday, the discussions were set to run all week.

The committee members -- 15 each from the government, the opposition and from civil society -- were tested for the coronavirus before they travelled to Geneva, and were tested again on arrival in the Swiss city.

The positive second tests were found among delegates who arrived from Damascus, opposition negotiations leader Hadi al-Bahra told a virtual press briefing on Tuesday.

One opposition delegate, one from civil society and two representing the government tested positive, he said.

Bahra said the meeting began in an upbeat mood late Monday morning, before being called off at lunch.

"This new constitution has to live up to the aspirations of the Syrian people for democracy, for equal citizenship, to guarantee their rights, and to make them equal in the eyes of the law in their duties and in their rights," he said.

The Constitutional Committee was created in September last year and first convened a month later.

A second round of talks, planned for late November, never got going after disagreement on the agenda.

Since then, talks have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The UN has been striving for more than nine years to nurture a political resolution to Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced more than 11 million.

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