Turkey snubs French mediation offer with Kurdish militia

2018-03-30 14:03
French President Emmanuel Macron. (Philippe Wojazer, Pool Photo via AP, File)

French President Emmanuel Macron. (Philippe Wojazer, Pool Photo via AP, File)

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Turkey on Friday rejected a French offer to mediate with the Syrian Democratic Forces which is dominated by a Kurdish militia blacklisted by Ankara, a presidential spokesperson said.

An offer to facilitate dialogue between the two sides was extended by French President Emmanuel Macron late on Thursday after he met a delegation of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

But Turkey dismissed it out of hand in a move likely to further fuel tension with Paris, which has expressed clear concerns over an ongoing Turkish military operation in northern Syria.

"We reject any efforts to promote 'dialogue', 'contact' or 'mediation' between Turkey and those terrorist organisations," presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter.

Macron said he hoped "a dialogue" could be established between the two sides with help from Paris and the international community.

Backbone

The backbone of the SDF is the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a militia group which has been driven out of its Afrin stronghold by the Turkish offensive.

The YPG is the military wing of the main Syrian Kurdish political movement, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The Turkish military began its offensive against the YPG in January, targeting the group over its ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984 and which Ankara blacklists as a terror group.

"Turkey's position on PKK/PYD/YPG, which seeks to legitimise itself as SDF, is perfectly clear," Kalin said, warning Paris against taking any steps which could be construed as legitimising terror groups.

"The countries we consider friends and allies must take a clear stand against all forms of terrorism," he said.

"The various names and disguises cannot hide the true identity of the terrorist organisation."

Both France and the US have worked closely with YPG fighters in the battle against Islamic State jihadists in Syria.

During Thursday's talks, Macron acknowledged the "role of the SDF in the fight against Daesh", the Elysee said using an Arabic acronym for IS.

But his remarks were not well received by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said he was "extremely saddened by France's... wrong stance on this issue".

Macron and Erdogan have spoken several times on the phone since Turkey's operation began on January 20.

Tougher line

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag took a much tougher line, lashing out at France and warning that any country co-operating with "terrorists" would be on Turkey's radar.

"France's assurance of support for PYD/YPG/YPJ terror organisations is clear co-operation and solidarity with terror groups attacking Turkey," wrote Bozdag on Twitter.

YPJ is the women's force within the YPG.

"Those who co-operate with terror groups against Turkey ... and attack Turkey alongside terrorists will get the same treatment that we inflict upon those terrorists," said Bozdag, who is also the government spokesperson.

"They will become Turkey's target."

Bozdag said he hoped France would not take such an "irrational step".

About 10 days into the Turkish operation in Syria, Macron had incensed Turkish officials by saying France would have a "real problem" if the campaign turned out to be an "invasion operation".

The comments drew a sharp response from Turkish authorities, saying that Turkey has never been "colonialist" in its history, urging Paris to look at its own past.

On March 18, Turkish forces and their rebel allies took full control of Afrin, with the YPG largely withdrawing without a fight.

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