A spokesman for President Erdogan says Ankara has no intention of ‘occupying’ any part of Syria
Turkey on Saturday urged the United States to use its “leverage” over Syrian Kurdish forces to ensure an orderly pullout under an agreement reached with Washington, a presidential spokesman told AFP.
Ankara had no intention of “occupying” any part of the neighboring country, he insisted.
Turkey and the United States reached an agreement that gives Kurdish forces five days for a complete withdrawal from a safe zone along the border—a deadline that expires on Tuesday night. But Ankara and the Kurdish forces accused each other Saturday of breaching the truce, which was intended to halt the Turkish offensive on condition that the militants retreated.
“We are committed to this agreement,” Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told AFP in an interview in Istanbul. “Within five days they are supposed to leave and we have told our American colleagues to use their leverage, their connections to make sure that they leave without any incidents.”
Turkey was sticking to its end of the deal, said Kalin. “Since we reached this agreement with the American delegation, we have been committed to this deal,” he added. “Our president has ordered our troops to maintain their positions and not engage anybody.”
Kalin accused Kurdish forces of perpetrating 16 attacks in the border towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad. “All the incidents that have happened were caused by the YPG [Kurdish] terrorists there, but our military people are in touch with their [American] counterparts to make sure that they leave without any fighting.”
Ankara says the YPG is a “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984. The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the U.S. and the European Union.
The commander of Kurdish forces in Syria, Mazloum Abdi, earlier accused Ankara of sabotaging the agreement with Washington by blocking the withdrawal of his forces from a flashpoint border town in northeastern Syria, a claim Turkey denied. Turkey has long pressed for a safe zone, which would be 32 kilometers deep, but Erdogan wants the area to extend eventually to 444 kilometers: from the city of Manbij to the Iraqi border.
But Ankara would not stay there forever, said Kalin. “We have no intention or interest in occupying any part of Syria or staying there indefinitely,” he said.
There would be no forced return of refugees to the planned safe zone, he said—responding to concerns about how some of those 3.6 million refugees in Turkey who fled the regime could go back. “We will never force anybody to go back to anywhere they don’t want to go,” he said.
Erdogan is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi next Tuesday, which overlaps with the end of the 120-hour deadline for Kurdish militants’ withdrawal. Erdogan’s meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, one of the major allies of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was “of extreme significance,” said Kalin. But he ruled out any direct contacts with Damascus “at this point.”
“We have no dealings with the regime at this point. We do this through the Russians,” he said. The deal with the U.S. and an agreement to be made with Russia would help the political process, he added. “That is all in the interest of reducing violence.”
The prospect of thousands of Islamic State group jihadists escaping in the chaos after Turkey launched its military action on Oct. 9 has caused widespread alarm in the West.
Kalin accused Kurdish forces of using I.S. prisoners as a “bargaining chip in this dirty war” by deliberately freeing them. It was a “blackmail basically to garner support from the West,” he said.
Turkish forces and their proxies had captured 196 I.S. prisoners in Syria on Friday, and they were being locked in a “safe place” in Syria. “They are under arrest, they are in a safe place. They are locked up. As our president has said before we will not let these people loose.”