UN envoy gloomy on Syria's constitution talks

Smoke billows from a building following a reported bombardment by pro-Syrian government forces in the town of Maaret al-Numan in Syria's Idlib province, the country's last major opposition bastion, on December 20, 2019 (AFP Photo/Abdulazez Ketaz)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The UN envoy to Syria on Friday gave a pessimistic assessment of efforts to amend the war-torn country's constitution, in contrast to upbeat comments last month.

A United Nations-brokered constitutional review committee consists of 150 delegates -- divided equally among President Bashar al-Assad's government, the opposition and civil society.

A smaller group of 45 negotiators has been charged with hammering out a new text.

"I see no reason to convene another session of the small body," envoy Geir Pedersen said in a video link to the UN Security Council.

"A meaningful wider political process will be one that delivers tangible actions such as progress on the release of detainees, abductees, and the clarification of the fate of missing persons."

He expressed "great frustration" over lack of progress, adding "the constitutional committee is and will remain fragile."

Pedersen had said in November that two weeks of talks had "gone much better" than expected.

The constitutional review has been touted as a step towards ending Syria's conflict, which has killed more than 370,000 people since 2011.

It is a central part of the UN plan defined by Security Council resolution 2254, adopted in December 2015, which also calls for UN-supervised elections.

Diplomats suggest Assad's regime planned to drag out the review until after parliamentary elections in 2020 and presidential elections in 2021.