After a nearly nine-month break, Syrian government and opposition representatives are set to begin a new round of U.N.-mediated talks aimed at drafting a new constitution for battle-weary Syria. Ahead of Monday’s start of the talks, a U.N. official met informally on Sunday with members of the committee tasked with drafting the measure.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, appeared upbeat after meeting government and opposition representatives of the 45-member constitutional committee Sunday. He said they had reached an agreement by consensus on how to move forward with the pending negotiations.

“The two co-chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting the constitutional reform,” he said. “So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for a constitutional reform in Syria.”

The draft constitution is seen as a crucial element in ending more than a decade of war that is estimated to have killed half a million people and displaced nearly 13.5 million both inside Syria and as refugees in neighboring countries.  

Pedersen said the people at the meeting realize they are not working in a vacuum. He said the committee recognizes that people still are being killed and injured daily and that this must end.

“As you all know, on top of this, we have an extremely difficult humanitarian and economic situation,” he said. “There are more than 13 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance and close to 90 percent are living below the poverty line…So, I appealed to the Security Council that we now need to come together and start a reprocess to the benefit of the Syrian people to move this process forward.”   

Pedersen noted for the first time the two government and opposition co-chairs of the committee met with him simultaneously. He said they had a substantial and frank discussion on how to proceed with constitutional reform. Pedersen said he hoped this would bode well for the weeklong talks.

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