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UN Mediator Proposes Syria Working Groups on Issues in Conflict

FILE - U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to media during a news conference in Geneva, Jan. 15, 2015.

The United Nations mediator in Syria's civil war proposed on Wednesday inviting Syrians to take part in U.N.-led working groups to sort out four big issues, since the warring parties were not ready to hold formal peace talks.

Mediator Staffan de Mistura told the U.N. Security Council the groups would address safety and protection, political and constitutional issues, military and security issues, and public institutions.

Over nearly three months de Mistura consulted Syrians and world and regional powers on how to implement a roadmap for peace called the Geneva Communique, agreed by world powers in June 2012 and calling for political transition while leaving the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unresolved.

"While common ground exists [between the Syrian parties], the questions over devolution of executive authority to a transitional body, let's be honest with ourselves, remains the most polarized element of the Communique," de Mistura said.

He voiced a belief the working groups would be a step towards a "Syrian-owned framework document" on implementing the Geneva Communique.

A Syrian government crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in 2011 led to an armed uprising. Radical Islamic State militants have taken advantage of the chaos to declare a caliphate in territory they have seized in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council on Wednesday that the death toll from the more than four-year-old civil war was at least a quarter of a million people.

De Mistura's two predecessors resigned in frustration at the failure to make headway in ending the war.