Syria constitution body could be agreed on soon: Russia

NUR-SULTAN/BEIRUT: The Syrian government and armed opposition groups, together with both sides’ backers, could agree on the makeup of a constitutional committee in coming months, Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said on Friday.
Forming a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end an eight-year war which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced about half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million.
The sides have so far failed to agree the constitutional committee’s makeup, and a fresh round of talks in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, produced no apparent breakthrough on Friday. But Lavrentyev said it was close. Diplomats from Russia, Iran and Turkey will meet with United Nations negotiators in Geneva to discuss the issue again, he said, adding that the issue was “at the finish line”.
“The timing has not been agreed yet, taking into account the upcoming month of Ramadhan, it is most likely to happen after that,” Lavrentyev told reporters. “But I think by that time (UN mediator) Mr Pedersen will be able to announce” the establishment of the committee.
7,000 Syrians leave camp
Meanwhile, more than 7,000 people have left a desperate desert camp for displaced Syrians near the Jordanian border since March, a United Nations spokesperson said on Friday.
According to the UN’s humanitarian coordination office OCHA, around 36,000 people remained in the isolated Rukban camp near Al-Tanf base used by the US-led coalition fighting the IS group, after over 4,000 left between March and April 21.
The Syrian government and key backer Russia said in February they had opened corridors out of the camp, calling on residents to leave.
“Since March, over 7,300 people have left Rukban,” OCHA spokesman David Swanson told AFP, including some 3,000 who left after April 21.
Those who have quit the camp have moved to collective shelters in the central city of Homs or resettled in their areas of origin in the province of the same name, OCHA said on Thursday.
It said Rukban residents were organising their own transportation to the edge of a de-escalation zone established around Al-Tanf, from where they either continued in their vehicles or were transferred by private or government-provided vehicles to four collective shelters in Homs city.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says those returning to government-held parts of Homs from Rukban had struck so-called “reconciliation deals” with the Syrian government.
Conditions inside Rukban are dire, with many surviving on just one simple meal a day, often bread and olive oil or yoghurt, according to one resident.— Reuters/AFP