UN Syria envoy expects no breakthrough at new round of Syria talks

Opposing sides in the Syrian war came face-to-face in United Nations peace talks for the first time in three years on Thursday, to hear United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura implore them to find a way out of the nearly six-year-old conflict.

The Syrian opposition says the fate of President Bashar al-Assad is on the agenda of the new talks on Syria's conflict in Geneva - something the government has refused to discuss.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main opposition group in Syria, said they were willing to hold face-to-face discussions with representatives of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in a bid to reach a political solution to the 6-year-old conflict in Syria. "No, I am not expecting a breakthrough", the veteran diplomat said, adding that the most he was really hoping for was "momentum" to propel the two sides to continue the discussion.

"There are spoilers, we have seen it all the time during the last talks and perhaps they may even be attempting or tempted to [do] something before or during the talks to provoke one side or the other to walk out", de Mistura said on Wednesday.

Salem Al Meslet, a spokesman for the group told the AP that it wants "direct" talks with the government delegation. He wants to focus on reforming the governance of Syria, introducing a new constitution, and holding elections under United Nations supervision.

He broke off a previous round of talks nine months ago because of an escalation in fighting.

The opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said yesterday that it wants direct negotiations with the regime, but both sides would have to agree.

After almost six years of war, observers would be forgiven for greeting the latest Syria negotiations in Geneva with scepticism.

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But just hours after rival delegations arrived, de Mistura admitted there was limited ground for progress.

When Syria peace talks restart in Geneva on Thursday after 10 months in the deep-freeze, familiar disagreements are likely to resurface, despite massive changes in the military and political context.

The ceasefire - which excludes hardline jihadists such as Islamic State - was implemented after separate talks in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Government troops are confronted by militants of different armed rebel groups.

He said a shaky ceasefire brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran had opened a window of opportunity.

He also hoped there would be serious work on the issue of political transition, a sticking point of past talks.

Ukraine's Volodymyr Yelchenko, the council's current president, said the council "expressed hope that the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva will produce tangible results" while moving towards "a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition".

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