Staffan de Mistura.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Utenriksdepartementet UD, used under CC BY-ND

The Syrian government Saturday rejected a suggestion by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura that a presidential election in the war-torn country is expected in 18 months, drawing opposition charges of an attempt to sully upcoming peace talks.

“De Mistura has no right to talk about presidential elections,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said. “This is the exclusive right of Syrian people.”

His comment comes a day after de Mistura said in published remarks that the Syrian presidential and parliamentary elections, to be observed by the United Nations, should take place in a year and a half from the start of the latest round of peace talks between the government and opposition, scheduled for March 14 in Geneva.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has already set parliamentary polls for April 13.

Al-Moallem said the government would send a team for Monday's UN-sponsored indirect talks with the opposition.

“We are going to Geneva to render the dialogue successful. This does not only depend on us, but on other parties as well,” he said at a press conference in Damascus, according to Syria’s state news agency SANA.

“Our delegation will return after 24 hours if the other side does not show up."

His remarks drew sharp criticism from the opposition.

“I think he drives nails in the coffin of Geneva,” Munzer Makhous, a spokesman for the main opposition Higher Negotiations Commission (HNC), said.

“This is obvious. Al-Moallem stops Geneva before it starts,” Makhous told Dubai-based television Al-Arabiya.

On Friday, the Saudi-based HNC confirmed its plans to participate in next week's talks, insisting that al-Assad should have no role in an envisaged transitional period. 

Al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia, have made significant territorial gains against opposition rebels in recent months.

In February, de Mistura put Syria's peace talks on hold amid an upsurge of violence in the country.

A partial ceasefire, brokered by the United States and Russia, went into effect on February 27 and has since been holding, despite some breaches.

The truce excludes the Islamic State terrorist militia and al-Qaeda's Syria branch, the al-Nusra Front, meaning their forces can be targeted.

Around 381 people, including 110 civilians, have been killed in Syria’s violence in the areas covered by the truce since its onset, a monitoring group reported Saturday.

The dead included 110 civilians, of them 26 were children, the Syrian Observatory for Huamn Rights said.

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