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Top EU Diplomat Unveils Syria Plan As Conflict Enters Seventh Year

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (file photo)

The European Union unveiled a plan to support the reconstruction of war-torn Syria on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the first protests against President Bashar al-Assad's government.

The EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini on March 14 released proposals ranging from demining to organizing elections.

Speaking ahead of a Syria conference in Brussels scheduled for April 5, Mogherini said she hopes peace talks in Kazakhstan combined with the EU's initiative could spark meetings between Syria's political parties in Geneva under UN auspices.

"Too many times the international community has not prepared the post-conflict period in time. This time we want to be ready," Mogherini told reporters at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Mogherini said the EU was ready to spring into action once a "genuine political transition" from Assad's rule was under way.

The EU is already the biggest donor to Syria, providing more than 9.4 billion euros ($10 billion) in humanitarian, development and economic assistance since 2011. It plays no military role.

An accompanying document issued by the European Commission said that, among measures the EU could take, would be to mobilize funding to support reconstruction efforts, including helping with security, demining, and cease-fire monitoring.

The document said the 28-country bloc could also help restore basic services such as water, health, and education.

'Man-Made Disaster'

However, peace talks which resumed in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, on March 14 got under way without representatives from the opposition, leaving little hope for a breakthrough.

Delegates from the three countries sponsoring the talks – Russia, Turkey, and Iran – were present at the discussions on March 14 in Astana, but Syrian opposition groups said the previous day they would not attend, accusing the Syrian government and its backer Russia of failing to adhere to a cease-fire brokered in December.

Two previous rounds of talks in Astana ended without a breakthrough.

The six-year-old war in Syria, which began with a government crackdown on March 15, 2011 on pro-democracy protesters, has killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced millions more.

The UN human rights chief described the six-year Syrian conflict as the "worst man-made disaster since World War II," citing widespread torture and a "tidal wave of bloodshed and atrocity."

"Today, in a sense the entire country has become a torture-chamber: a place of savage horror and absolute injustice," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in a statement on March 14.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
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