Syria opposition says Russian peace conference 'a joke'
ASTANA - Syrian opposition groups in exile vowed Wednesday to boycott peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad's regime that his ally Russia plans to host later this month, calling them "a joke".
Moscow's proposal to hold a "Congress of Syrian National Dialogue" on November 18 was announced on Tuesday at the end of the latest round of talks on Syria held in the Kazakh capital Astana.
Those talks have run in parallel to negotiations held in Geneva with the backing of the United Nations.
The Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella organisation of opposition groups in exile, "will not participate in any negotiations with the regime outside the framework of Geneva ... and without the sponsorship of the United Nations", spokesman Ahmed Ramadan said.
Russia's foreign ministry website on Tuesday listed 33 Syrian organisations invited to the planned congress in the Russian city of Sochi, including pro-regime forces and the full spectrum of opposition groups.
The proposal "is a joke in bad taste proposed by the regime in cooperation with Russia", said Yehya al-Aridi, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, which represents key opposition groups at the Geneva talks.
"We have dozens of reasons to reject the Russian initiative. The main one is that it does not provide a solution to the Syrian crisis, it does not bring security to Syrians or rid them of a regime programmed to kill them," he added.
"Russia wants to impose opposition factions fabricated by the regime," he said, referring to parties created in Damascus after the conflict erupted in 2011 but which the opposition in exile sees as aligned with the regime.
The head of the Syrian government's delegation to the Astana talks, Bashar al-Jaafari, said the regime "of course is ready to participate" in the Sochi conference, the official SANA news agency reported.
More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests.
Recent rounds of talks in Kazakhstan have focused on ironing out the details of a Russia-led plan establishing four "de-escalation" zones in Syria.
A new round of UN-backed Syria talks is scheduled to be held from November 28 in Geneva.