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Syria blames Turkey for rebel boycott of Astana talks

The Syrian opposition said it would not attend the talks because of what it called Russia's unwillingness to end air strikes against civilians
Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar al Jaafari in Geneva, Switzerland on 25 February (AFP)

The Syrian government accused Turkey of breaking its commitments to peace talks as Ankara-backed rebel groups boycotted a third round of meetings due to begin in Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

The Astana talks were launched in January with support from Russia and Iran, which back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, one of the main backers of the opposition.

"When one of the three guarantors breaks their commitment - and I mean Turkey - this means that Turkey must be the one that is asked about the non-attendance or participation of these armed groups," Bashar al Jaafari, the Syrian government envoy, said in broadcast remarks from Astana.

The Syrian opposition said it would not attend the talks because of what it called Russia's unwillingness to end air strikes against civilians and its failure to put pressure on the Syrian army to abide by a widely violated ceasefire.

Jaafari said the Syrian government had gone to Astana to meet its Iranian and Russian allies, not the armed opposition groups, and "to show the Syrian government's seriousness" in engaging in the Astana process.

Jaafari said the non-attendance of the rebel groups confirmed "the view of the government of Syria and showed the political deficiency of these armed groups". He added that the rebels' decision on whether to attend or not was taken not by them, but by "their operators".

'Torture chamber'

Meanwhile, the top UN human rights official called on Tuesday for the release of tens of thousands of detainees held in Syria's prisons and said that bringing perpetrators of crimes including torture to court was vital for reaching a lasting peace.

"Today in a sense the entire country has become a torture chamber, a place of savage horror and absolute injustice," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council.

"Ensuring accountability, establishing the truth and providing reparations must happen if the Syrian people are ever to find reconciliation and peace. This cannot be negotiable," he told the Geneva forum at the start of a session on Syria.

He appealed to the warring sides to halt torture and executions and to free detainees or at least provide basic information about "names and localities of those in detention and the place of burial of those who have died".

He lamented the fact that efforts to end "this senseless carnage" had been repeatedly vetoed, an apparent reference to Russia and China's decisions to veto UN Security Council resolutions on several occasions since the war began.

Zeid noted that the conflict, which has raged for six years, began when security officials detained and tortured a group of children who had daubed anti-government graffiti on a school wall in Deraa.