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UN Envoy: Start of Syria Peace Talks in Doubt

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks during a news conference, Nov. 19, 2015, at U.N. headquarters.
U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks during a news conference, Nov. 19, 2015, at U.N. headquarters.

The United Nations wants to convene a new round of Syrian peace talks on Monday, but with only days remaining and no agreement on who should participate there are doubts about whether the negotiations will begin as scheduled.

Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.'s envoy for Syria announced last month that he wanted to begin the talks, which are aimed at setting up a transitional government, on January 25 in Geneva.

De Mistura has the support of a group of 17 nations, including the United States and Russia, but those nations have yet to decide which of the many opposition groups fighting in Syria will have representatives at the negotiating table.

Decision on opposition groups

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Monday that invitations will not be sent until those decisions are made.

Haq said the U.N. is still focused on January 25 for a start date and that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging world powers to "redouble efforts" to reach an agreement.

Haq said the U.N. also hopes and expects that a cease-fire in Syria will accompany the beginning of peace talks.

Syria has been at war since March 2011 when peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad were met by a harsh crackdown and the situation spiraled into a civil war.

The conflict has left more than 250,000 people dead and led millions to flee their homes.

Flood of refugees

The flood of refugees fleeing Syria has strained the country's neighbors and European nations that are struggling to cope with the influx of people.

The goal of the peace talks is to not only halt the fighting, but to kick off a series of political transitions that include a new constitution and elections in 2017. Two previous rounds of U.N.-brokered talks ended in early 2014 with little progress.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN on Monday that he cannot make any promises about Syria, but that the Geneva conference is the only way to get a political settlement.

Syria analyst David Lesch of Trinity College in Texas told VOA that deciding who will represent the opposition in Geneva was always, in his mind, one of the biggest challenges to ending the five-year civil war.

Victor Beattie contributed to this report.

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