Syria aide due in China for talks on conflict

BEIJING - A top aide to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was due to arrive in China on Tuesday for talks about a political resolution to the violence in the conflict-torn country.

China said late Monday that Bouthaina Shaaban, a special adviser to Assad, would visit to hold talks with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, and it was also considering inviting Syrian opposition members in future.

Syria's embassy in Beijing declined to comment about the visit on Tuesday.

The UN Security Council is due to debate the future of the United Nations mission in Syria on Thursday, but so far there is little consensus among world powers on how to deal with the conflict between government forces and rebels.

China, a traditional ally of Assad, has come under fire for vetoes of three UN Security Council resolutions on Syria.

Beijing's unwillingness to back further action despite the violence may stem from its discomfort with Western military intervention, analysts say.

Still, China earlier this month expressed regret over former UN chief Kofi Annan's resignation as international envoy for Syria and said it would continue to "work for a political resolution" to the deadly conflict.

Beijing has said it wanted the UN to play an important role in trying to solve the conflict. It previously supported Annan's plan to trying to bring peace to the country, before he resigned as special envoy.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement that Shaaban's visit was part of China's efforts to address the crisis.

China has actively supported an immediate ceasefire, protection of civilians and political dialogue to resolve the crisis, he said.

International concern is mounting over how to end the conflict that has triggered a major humanitarian crisis and sent around 140,000 Syrians fleeing to neighbouring countries.

More than 21,000 people have been killed since March last year, with fighting escalating after the failure of Annan's peace plan and the regime hit by an increasing number of defections by high-ranking officials.

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