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5th round Syria peace talks gets underway in Kazakhstan

5TH ROUND SYRIA PEACE TALKS GETS UNDERWAY IN KAZAKHSTAN

The fifth round of peace talks aimed at ending the Syria conflict began Tuesday in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said.

"All the delegations that plan to participate in this important stage of the talks have arrived," Abdrakhmanov was quoted as saying by national news agency Kazinform.

Abdrakhmanov said nine representatives of armed opposition groups have gathered for indirect negotiations with delegates representing the Syrian regime.

Beside the three guarantor countries -- Russia, Turkey, and Iran -- and UN Special Representative for Syria Staffan de Mistura, delegations from Jordan and the U.S. will also attend the talks as observers.

Abdrakhmanov said agenda items include the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria, which was signed by the guarantor countries during a meeting in Astana on May 4.

Following the Dec. 30 cease-fire, the first round of Astana talks was held on Jan. 23-24, brokered by Turkey, which backs the opposition, and Russia and Iran, which support the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests. Since then, more than 250,000 people have been killed and in excess of 10 million displaced, according to the UN.

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