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Syrian groups weigh UN plan for new statute

GENEVA

Rival Syrian delegations on Wednesday weighed a UN proposal on developing a new constitution for the war-ravaged country on second day of peace talks as the US-led coalition against Daish denied strikes in the eastern Syrian town of Albu Kamal this week that killed dozens of civilians.

The sixth round of UN-backed negotiations in Geneva is the latest drive to bring a political solution to the conflict which has claimed more than 320,000 lives since 2011.

The talks opened with tensions high over a US charge that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government was using a prison crematorium to hide evidence of thousands of murdered detainees.

Syria’s government delegation, led by Bashar Al Jaafari, returned to UN headquarters on Wednesday afternoon for a meeting with mediator Staffan De Mistura.

They were expected to discuss his proposal to create a “consultative” committee of civil society activists and technocrats tasked with setting a roadmap to a new constitution.

The team would begin work immediately on “specific options for constitutional drafting” in order to “prevent a constitutional or legal vacuum at any point during the political transition process being negotiated,” according to a copy of the document seen by this news agency.

Syrian government officials did not respond to requests for comment, but a source close to the delegation confirmed they had received the document.

The opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has said it has “reservations” about the draft, which it are expected to discuss with de Mistura later Wednesday.

An opposition source said that the HNC had submitted a list of questions on the document to the UN, including on what “prerogatives” the new committee would have.

The UN-backed talks are expected to focus on four separate “baskets”: governance, a new constitution, elections and combating “terrorism” in the war-ravaged country.

While the HNC has insisted on Assad’s ouster as part of any political transition, the government sees this demand as a nonstarter.

The US-led coalition said it was assessing reports of civilian casualties in a strike it launched in Raqa province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said May 15 coalition air strikes on Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzor province killed 62 people, including 42 civilians.

The monitor had previously said 30 people were killed in the strikes, but subsequently revised the toll upwards. It said the dead in the town on the Syria-Iraq border included 11 children and 20 Daish fighters.

In a statement, the US-led coalition said its only strikes in the area on May 14 and 15 were carried out outside Albu Kamal.

“The open-source reports of civilian casualties referred to locations inside the city itself, where we did not conduct strikes during the time period of alleged civilian casualties,” the coalition said.

Agencies