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Damascus gives U.N. list of nominees for constitutional committee

GENEVA (Reuters) - The Syrian government has submitted a list of names to the United Nations as candidates for inclusion in a constitutional committee, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura told Reuters on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura addresses a news conference during an international conference on the future of Syria and the region, in Brussels, Belgium, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts

Formation of the committee, which will rewrite the Syrian constitution, was agreed at a Syrian peace conference in the Russian ski resort of Sochi in January. It is up to de Mistura to decide whom to pick.

De Mistura’s spokeswoman Reem Ismail said the U.N. was carefully studying the list of names but declined to comment further.

De Mistura has said he will select about 50 people, including supporters of the government, the opposition and independents.

The main opposition negotiating group has agreed to cooperate as long as the committee is formed under U.N. auspices.

The government at first agreed to the plan, but later rejected it. Its submission of a list of names to the U.N. follows a meeting earlier this month between President Bashar al-Assad and his main backer, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has held the balance of power in Syria, both on the battlefield and in the U.N.-led peace talks, for the past two years. It has helped Assad recover huge amounts of lost territory in Syria without persuading him to agree to any political reforms.

The U.N. Security Council, which includes Russia and the United States, has mandated de Mistura to get a deal on a new constitution, new elections and a reform of Syria’s governance.

But nine rounds of talks, most of them in Geneva, have failed to bring the warring sides together to end a seven-year-old conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.

Assad’s government announced in 2012 that voters had overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a referendum, conducted amid civil war, that was derided as a sham by his critics at home and abroad.

The new basic law maintained real power in the presidency but dropped a clause that in effect granted Assad’s Baath Party a monopoly on power.

Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Andrew Roche