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COVID Infections Delay Syria Constitution Talks

FILE - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses the parliament, in Damascus, Syria, Aug. 12, 2020.

UN sponsored talks to draft a new constitution for war-torn Syria have been suspended one day after they began, after four representatives of the 45-member constitutional committee tested positive for COVID-19.

The talks resumed Monday after a nine-month break due to disagreements over the agenda and then restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Spokeswoman for the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Jenifer Fenton says all necessary measures were put in place to ensure the safety of constitutional committee members attending the talks.

“Committee members tested before traveling and were termed negative. The test that took place in Geneva was, of course, an additional precaution," said Fenton. "Full mitigation measures were in place during the meeting…The third session is currently on hold and the special envoy is consulting regarding the next steps and how the process can move forward from here.”

In advance of the talks, U.N. Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said he was hopeful the meeting could help to build trust and confidence between Syria’s warring parties and open the door to a broader political process. A draft constitution is seen as key to holding U.N. sponsored elections for a post-conflict government in Syria.

Fenton says the U.N. immediately informed the Swiss government that committee members had tested positive. She says measures have been taken to mitigate any risks, and tracing of anyone who may have been in close contact with those infected is under way.

“The envoy observed all the recommended safety measures during his interactions with Committee members and other interlocuters," said Fenton. "He has not been advised that he needs to quarantine…Those persons who tested positive are in quarantine and have committed to quarantine.”

Officials say all members are in quarantine in their hotel rooms for a period ranging from two to 10 days. During this period, they are to communicate virtually with each other and the U.N. Special Envoy.