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Syrian Coalition say will attend international peace talks

Source: Reuters - Sat, 18 Jan 2014 18:15 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Adds details on vote, rebel discussions)

By Dasha Afanasieva

SILIVRI, Turkey, Jan 18 (Reuters) - The main Syrian political opposition group in exile, the Syrian National Coalition, said it had agreed on Saturday to attend internationally sponsored peace talks beginning in Switzerland next week.

The "Geneva 2" talks with representatives from President Bashar al-Assad's government start in Montreux on Wednesday and are seen as the most serious international effort yet to end the near three-year conflict.

After a series of delays caused by internal disagreement, 58 Syrian National Coalition members voted to attend and 14 voted against, said the group's media office.

Another three abstained it added. According to opposition sources, more than 40 members had already withdrawn from the vote.

The Coalition, based in Turkey, has little influence on the ground in Syria, where many rebels oppose the peace talks. Its military arm, the Supreme Military Council (SMC), has been eclipsed by Islamist rebels and al Qaeda-linked fighters.

It was not immediately clear whether the Coalition's vote would be backed by a separate meeting, in Ankara, of Syrian rebel militias, who would be needed to implement any agreements made at peace talks.

Syrian officials have pledged to attend the January 22 Geneva 2 talks, though they dispute the invitation letter's focus on setting up a transitional authority, saying the priority is "to continue to fight terrorism" - a phrase they use to describe Assad's battle with increasingly radical rebels. (Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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