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Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird attends an event in Ottawa on Thursday, December 12, 2013.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Reports of systematic torture and killings by the Assad regime are "deeply disturbing" and more reason to continue the push for a political solution to the conflict in Syria, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says.

Mr. Baird made the comments from Switzerland, where he participated in a second round of talks on an international plan to establish a transitional government to oversee change in Syria. During the past three years, more than 130,000 have been killed in a civil war that has engulfed the country, and millions have fled their homes.

Before the conference began, a London law firm hired by Qatar released a report on the Syrian conflict, including photographs that were cited as evidence of torture and killings of thousands of people by Syria's military police.

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Mr. Baird told reporters that he was shocked by the "brutal, frightening" images, several of which were held up during Wednesday's conference. "They're deeply disturbing, shocking, and should be yet another reason to commit ourselves to a political solution," he said.

The Geneva 2 conference was co-sponsored by the United States and Russia and was meant to follow up on the 2012 United Nations Geneva Communique – known as Geneva I – which called for a transitional government to oversee change in Syria.

Mr. Baird said Canada strongly supports a political solution to the conflict in Syria, including the departure of President Bashar al-Assad. He also called for the international community to continue to address urgent needs in Syria.

However, the Syrian government has so far resisted calls for Mr. Assad to step down, raising questions about whether the international plan can succeed.

"I think there [are] earnest efforts to try to find a peaceful political solution," Mr. Baird said after the conference. "The pre-condition for attending was to accept Geneva 1, which Assad had accepted 18 months ago. Obviously there's no way that a mutually agreed-upon transitional government could include Assad. The opposition has been brutally clear about that, and obviously that's Canada's view as well."

Speaking during the conference earlier Wednesday, Mr. Baird warned attendees that the violence in Syria has created a "vacuum" that could be filled by terrorists from outside the country, further destabilizing the country and the region.

"The terrorist threat that is developing in Syria is real," he told the conference, according to a transcript of his speech. "It is a threat to the stability of the entire region and beyond. It is a war we have seen before on the streets of Baghdad, and its agents are ones who have been hardened by the wars of the last decade."

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With a report from Reuters

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