Syria's Kurds reject regime-imposed 'reconciliation'


Beirut (AFP)

A Kurdish-led Syrian force said Friday it believes in dialogue with the government but warned a settlement on the future of territory it controls cannot arrive through a Damascus-prescribed "reconciliation" agreement.

"We are ready for dialogue with the Syrian regime, with the central government, in order to reach a democratic solution for all of Syria, including the north-east" said Mazloum Kobani, the chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

But "we cannot solve existing issues, and large problems in this region... through reconciliation" deals, he said in a speech to Arab tribal leaders in Ain Issa.

Syria's Defence Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub in March said that the SDF would have to strike a reconciliation agreement with Damascus or risk a regime-led military offensive in the third of the country that it controls.

So-called "reconciliation" deals brokered between Damascus and rebel groups outside Kurdish controlled areas of Syria since 2014 have been preceded by crippling sieges by regime forces and civilian evacuations.

With backing from a US-led coalition, Kurdish fighters have spearheaded the fight against Islamic State jihadists in parts of Syria that they control.

Victory was declared by the SDF in the territorial war against IS on March 23, after dislodging the jihadists from the village of Baghouz, their final stronghold.

Beyond battles against IS, the Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria's eight-year civil war, instead building their own institutions in areas under their control.

Washington's shock December announcement that it would withdraw its troops from Syria has sent the Kurds scrambling to rebuild ties with the Damascus regime, but talks so far have failed to reach a compromise.

Kobani on Friday said that a deal with Damascus needs to recognise gains made by the Kurds since the start of the conflict.

"It is not possible, in any shape or form, for us to return to conditions (that existed) before 2011," Kobani said Friday.

"It is not possible to reach a democratic and pluralistic Syria without full recognition of the rights of Syria's Kurds," he added.

The SDF chief said that Damascus would need to recognise the authority of the Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria as well as the "special status" of the Kurdish-Arab alliance and its role in defending the region.

Kobani also said that foreign forces need to remain in Syria until the jihadist threat in the country subsides.

"As long as terrorism remains... the role of the US-led coalition and Russian forces is still demanded and is still necessary," he said.

Russia intervened in Syria's multi-fronted civil war in 2015, and backs the Damascus regime.

The White House has said that it will keep 400 US troops in Syria "for a period of time", after initially saying late last year that it would pull all 2,000 of its troops out of the country.

Syria's civil war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the regime's brutal repression of anti-government protests.