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Activists at Syria peace talks call for 'comprehensive change'

GENEVA (Reuters) - A group of Syrian political activists invited to take part in the Geneva peace process presented a submission to the media on Wednesday after meeting U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura, who has said he wants to meet representatives of all sides in the conflict.

Qadri Jamil, member of the Moscow-Cairo Group, attends a news conference after a meeting during Syria peace talks at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse - RTSARU1

The delegation comprised seven activists belonging to the “Moscow-Astana platform”, and eight belonging to the “Cairo platform”, referring to the towns where they coalesced.

“We all have different backgrounds and different political positions, we don’t fully agree on everything,” said Jihad Makdissi, a representative of the Cairo platform.

The Geneva talks are part of a diplomatic push launched with U.S. and Russian support to end more than five years of war in Syria that has killed more than 250,000 people, created the world’s worst refugee crisis, and allowed for the rise of Islamic State.

Moscow-Astana member Qadri Jamil said the delegation was not against being merged into a single delegation with the main opposition, the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC), and it wanted to hold direct talks with the government.

“We are not competing with anyone,” said Makdissi. “We want a political solution. Any idea that can be contributed and can ensure the success of Mr de Mistura’s mission is more than welcome.”

The Moscow-Astana platform distributed a position paper it had submitted to de Mistura, who has also had confidential submissions from the Syrian government and the opposition HNC.

The paper reiterated the points set out in several U.N. resolutions governing the talks and framework agreements struck in Vienna and in Geneva, and called for “democratic, radical, deep and comprehensive change”.

De Mistura has said he wants the Geneva talks to focus on Syria’s political transition, touching on the most divisive issue between the HNC and the Syrian government - the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.

A U.N. resolution governing the peace process says Syria should have free, fair, U.N.-supervised elections within 18 months, which Makdissi suggested should be the sole answer to the question.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Peter Cooney