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Geneva 2 Syrian peace talks begin in Montreux

The Geneva 2 talks, aimed at finding a political solution to end the three-year conflict in Syria, have begun in the Swiss resort city of Montreux. Diplomats from over 40 countries have gathered for the conference.

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Geneva 2 talks underway

Diplomats gathered Wednesday for the opening of the 'Geneva 2' conference in the Swiss resort city of Montreux. The talks are the latest bid by the international community to push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and the Syrian opposition to

reach a political solution to their three-year civil war.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Syrians bear the primary responsibility for ending the conflict in their country.

"We know that it has been an extremely difficult path to reach this point. We have lost valuable time and many, many lives. Let me not mince words, the challenges before you and before all of us are formidable. But your presence here raises hope," he said.

Ban also called on the international delegates gathered at the conference to do "everything within their power" to help Syria realize their goal of peace.

"There is no alternative to ending the violence... Let us prove to all that the world is able to unite," he said.

Tense talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry,

who along with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov has led efforts to orchestrate the peace conference, also made an opening statement.

"We see only one option, negotiating a transition government born by mutual consent," he said. "That means that Bashar al-Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way, no way possible, that a man who has led a brutal response to his own people can regain legitimacy to govern."

Speaking just after Kerry, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem responded by saying no one outside Syria has the right to remove the president and that, "Some countries attending this conference have their hands stained with blood.”

He also called the Syrian opposition "traitors.”

"They claim to represent the Syrian people. If you want to speak in the name of the Syrian people, you should not be traitors to the Syrian people, agents in the pay of enemies of the Syrian people," Muallem said.

In response, the head of Syria's Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed al-Jarba, said that any discussion of Assad's continued hold on power would effectively end the talks.

Al-Jarba said a transitional government "is the only topic for us."

Face-to-face meeting

Later this week in Geneva, representatives from the Syrian government and the opposition will sit down for their first face-to-face meeting since the conflict erupted in 2011.

The talks seek to build on an agreement reached at a previous international meeting held in Geneva in 2012. However, the deal fell apart after both sides failed to adhere to a ceasefire.

According to the UN, more than 2.4 million Syrians have fled the country since fighting began, with more than 6.5 million internally displaced.

The pro-opposition watchdog group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, has said the war has claimed 130,000 lives.

Iran: uninvited and doubtful

Proceedings were already off to a shaky start earlier in the week, when UN chief Ban issued a last-minute invitation for Iran, a staunch supporter of Assad, to attend the talks.

The

invitation was withdrawn

after a threat from the Syrian opposition that it would pull out if Tehran - which has repeatedly given its backing to the Assad government - were to be represented.

Shortly before the talks were to kick off, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said he believes there is little hope of success for the Geneva 2 talks.

"All the signs show that we cannot have much hope that the Geneva 2 conference will find a solution to the problems of the Syrian people and the fight against terrorism," Rouhani said before leaving for the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.

"We also don't have much hope that this conference will be efficient in establishing stability since some supporters of the terrorists are participating in it," he added.

hc/mz (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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