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UN chief Ban Ki-moon announces January 22 date for Syria peace conference

A date has finally been set for long-hoped-for talks aimed at ending the conflict in Syria. The announcement comes after many months of laborious effort to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.

Announcing the landmark conference, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Monday it would be "a mission of hope."

"The conflict in Syria has raged for too long. It would be unforgivable not to seize this opportunity to bring an end to the suffering and destruction it has caused," he said in a statement.

The talks on January 22 will see parties involved in Syria's bloody 32-month war meet for the first time since the conflict began in March 2011. The so-called Geneva II conference is meant as a follow-up to one held in June 2012, at which world powers issued a call for a transitional Syrian government.

Intense diplomatic efforts

Plans for the conference have repeatedly been put on hold as Syria's warring sides failed to agree whether President Bashar al-Assad or his inner circle could play a role in the peace process.

Monday's announcement was made after a closed-door meeting in Geneva with the UN and Arab League envoy on the conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi. Also at the meeting were Russian deputy foreign ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov, as well as Wendy Sherman, US undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Monday's meeting was preceded by a string of other talks with Washington and Moscow. Russia, a key ally of Assad, has been urging the Syrian government to cooperate in the conference, while the US, Britain and France have worked to persuade the fractured Syrian opposition.

Syria's increasingly sectarian war has claimed more than 120,000 lives, caused more than 2 million people to flee the country and created a humanitarian aid crisis within the country itself.

tj/hc (AFP, Reuters)