Syria Kurds expected to declare federal system

2016-03-16 20:10
A woman pushing a stoller walks past a government soldier during clashes in central Diyarbakir. (Ilyas Akengin, AFP)

A woman pushing a stoller walks past a government soldier during clashes in central Diyarbakir. (Ilyas Akengin, AFP)

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Beirut - Kurdish-led parties meeting in northern Syria on Wednesday are expected to declare a new federal system in areas under their control, two Kurdish officials said.

The move, which would expand an already existing system of self-administration, is likely to anger Turkey which is wary of any bid by Syrian Kurds to solidify their autonomy and of their control of territory.

Kurdish groups, which hold large stretches of northern Syria, have been excluded from ongoing peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the country's five-year conflict.

More than 150 delegates from Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and other parties were meeting Wednesday in the town of Rmeilan, in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province.

"The gathering will try to develop a new ruling system in northern Syria," said Sihanuk Dibo, a consultant to Syria's leading Kurdish political group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

"All the suggestions are now heading towards federalism," he told AFP from the conference.

Officials said the conference's final decision would be issued either Wednesday or Thursday.

Kurdish parties already operate a system of three "autonomous administrations" in Syria's north, with independent police forces and schools.

The three cantons run along Syria's northern border with Turkey and are known as Afrin and Kobane, both in Aleppo province, and Jazire in Hasakeh province.

As well as three cantons, the plan would see the federal system expand to include additional areas recently seized from the Islamic State jihadist group in northern and northeastern Syria, Kurdish officials said.

A political message

Officials said the announcement was not intended as a first step towards independence.

"A federal state for ruling all of Syria is the best way to protect Syria from being divided up, because there is major distrust among the different sides," said Ibrahim Ibrahim, a PYD media official.

Washington-based analyst Mutlu Civiroglu said the announcement would be a political message "from Syrians on the ground, politically and militarily".

"Politically, it's also a message to the United Nations, the US, Russia, and especially to Geneva, that if you ignore us, we are going to determine our future by ourselves," he told AFP.

Despite deep divisions, the opposition High Negotiations Committee and the embattled government in Damascus have both categorically rejected a federal system in Syria.

On Wednesday, the head of the government delegation to the peace talks, Bashar al-Jaafari, told reporters in Geneva that announcing a federation would be "a total failure".

"The Syrian Kurds are an important component of the Syrian people... So betting on creating any kind of divisions among the Syrians will be a total failure," he said.

The issue of Syria's Kurds has caused a rare rift between the United States and NATO ally Turkey, which is battling a decades-long insurgency led by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Turkey has shelled the main Kurdish militia across the border, the People's Protection Units (YPG), but the United States has cooperated with the group, which has emerged as a key force fighting IS.

"Syria's national unity and territorial integrity is essential," a Turkish diplomatic source in Ankara told AFP.

He said the Syrian people would "decide collectively" on the future governance of their country.

"Except for that, unilateral initiatives cannot be valid," he said.

Read more on:    isis  |  syria

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