Syria peace talks in Astana flop after rebel no-show
ASTANA - Russian-led peace efforts for Syria floundered Wednesday as a third round of talks ended with no progress after rebels refused to show up to a meeting in Kazakhstan.
Regime supporters Russia and Iran along with rebel-backer Turkey have been pushing negotiations in Astana since January after gains on the ground by Damascus turned the tables in the six-year war.
The latest two-day meeting saw a delegation from Damascus meet with representatives from the three powers, but leaders of armed rebel groups stayed away for the first time over alleged violations of a fragile ceasefire deal.
Russian envoy Alexander Lavrentiev and Syrian regime negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari slammed the opposition's no-show and said it was a blow to any peace efforts.
"They want to break up political negotiations. There are forces that insist on a military solution," complained Lavrentiev after the end of the meeting.
Jaafari said the rebel boycott signalled the opposition's "disrespect for the process as a whole".
The failure of the latest round of talks casts a further cloud over stuttering Russian attempts to turn itself from a military player into a peacebroker after its intervention to support leader Bashar al-Assad.
Lavrentiev announced that a new meeting was planned for April 18-19 in Tehran, but it seems unlikely that rebels would agree to head to talks hosted by one of Assad's main backers.
Kazakhstan's deputy foreign minister Akylbek Kamaldinov said that there would be a future round of negotiations in Astana on May 3-4.
The Astana talks were initially seen as an attempt by Moscow, Ankara and Tehran to sideline the West over Syria but they have increasingly been billed as a supplement to UN-led talks in Geneva, the most recent of which ended this month with no breakthrough.
Both sides have been invited to a new round of talks in Geneva from March 23.
Over 320,000 people have died in the conflict in Syria that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Tuesday called the "worst man-made disaster the world has seen since World War II".