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Syria regime at UN: doors open for safe return of refugees

Syria's top diplomat on Monday said his country's doors are open for the safe return of refugees, and accused Western nations of taking advantage of the suffering of Syrians while pretending to care for their well-being.

"We have made it clear that Syria's doors are wide open for the safe and voluntary return of all refugees to their country," Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said, speaking in New York to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

He said while the Syrian government and its allies are making honest efforts on this humanitarian issue, "some continue to take advantage of the suffering of Syrians to serve an agenda that has nothing to do with humanitarian objectives or the interests of Syrians."

His words sharply contradicted with the view of Syria experts, human rights organisations and some foreign governments who say that forced conscription, indiscriminate detentions and forced disappearances continue.

In a report published earlier this month, Amnesty International said that a number of Syrian refugees who returned home have been subjected to detention, disappearance and torture at the hands of Syrian security forces, proving that it still isn't safe to return to any part of the country.

Mekdad also called for the withdrawal of US and Turkish troops from his war-ravaged nation, pledging to drive them out from Syria sooner or later.  

He said Syrian armed forces would continue fighting "terrorists" - the Syrian government's catch-all word for its opponents - until every part of Syria is once again under government control.

Syria's conflict started amid Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 and eventually devolved into an insurgency and civil war following a brutal military crackdown, resulting in one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes in the past century.

The United Nations human rights chief said last week that her office has documented the deaths of more than 350,200 people - civilians and combatants - in the war over the last decade, while admitting the real number for those killed in the conflict is almost certainly far higher.  

The war has also displaced half the country's pre-war population of 23 million, including 5 million who are refugees outside the country.

Mekdad was addressing the General Assembly for the first time.

He was appointed foreign minister in November, after the death of longtime diplomat Walid Moallem, who travelled to New York every year to address the General Assembly.  


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