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Syrian Opposition Plans Boycott Of Russia's 'Peace Congress'

Syrian opposition spokesman Yehya al-Aridi says his group will not attend a Russia-backed 'congress' in Sochi.

The main Syrian opposition group says it will not attend a Russia-sponsored "peace congress" in Sochi scheduled for January 29-30.

Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) spokesman Yahya al-Aridi on January 27 said the Syrian government and its ally Russia had not provided it with the necessary commitments and that the Sochi talks were an attempt to undermine UN efforts to broker a peace deal.

It was not immediately clear if the SNC's decision were final or if its leaders were awaiting further commitments. It also was not clear what would be the fate of the congress should the group not attend.

Moscow's plan to hold a "congress of national dialogue" at the Black Sea resort city had been met with suspicion by many Western countries and the United Nations

The United Nations is conducting its own round of peace talks aimed at finding a political solution to the nearly seven-year civil war in Syria.

Russia, which has received backing from Turkey and Iran for the congress, is accused of seeking to bypass the UN-backed process.

"The United Nations has to be put back in the middle of the game. There is no question of letting the Geneva process be hijacked, diverted or bypassed," the AFP news agency quoted a French diplomatic source as saying during UN-sponsored talks in Vienna on January 25-26.

Some Western nations fear a Russia-backed effort would lead to a result that would favor Assad's existing government.

Russia, along with Iran, has given Assad's government crucial support throughout the war, while Turkey and the United States support different rebel groups.

Moscow says the goal of the Sochi talks is to "efficiently" sustain the UN-sponsored talks with concrete "results."

It proposed the “congress” to bring together some 1,600 Syrian representatives from all sides to begin drawing up a new constitution for the post-war period.

Throughout nine rounds of negotiations in Switzerland, the SNC and Syrian government representatives have held separate talks with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, but the two delegations have not met face to face.

Before the SNC announcement, UN officials said they were still "evaluating the situation" before making a decision as to whether to attend the Sochi talks.

In addition to the UN sessions, Russia, Iran, and Turkey have been sponsoring parallel peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, dealing more with battlefield issues and have led to the establishment of four "de-escalation zones" in Syria last year.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, and TASS