Astana (Kazakhstan) (AFP) - A fresh round of Syrian peace talks is scheduled for next week in Astana, Kazakhstan said Monday, as part of a Moscow-led push to end the six-year conflict.
The two-day talks in Astana will begin on December 21 and will focus on freeing prisoners, the delivery of humanitarian aid, the functioning of de-escalation zones and other issues, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The announcement came as Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian forces in Syria during a surprise visit to the war-torn country earlier Monday.
Nearly all of the seven rounds of Syria negotiations in Astana have involved representatives of the Syrian regime and the armed opposition, as well as the three power-brokers: Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Moscow has spearheaded the talks in Astana since the start of the year as it tries to turn its game-changing military intervention into a negotiated settlement.
Both Russia and Iran have thrown their support behind the regime of Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has provided backing to the rebels.
The negotiations, which run in parallel to broader UN-backed talks in Geneva, involved armed rebels and government officials and have focused mainly on military issues.
The Kremlin also hopes to convene a political congress in the Black Sea resort of Sochi which would bring together regime officials and the opposition to reinvigorate a hobbled peace process.
More than 340,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in March 2011 when protests against Assad's rule sparked a brutal crackdown.