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Syria: Kurds 'to declare federation', regime and opposition object

The self-proclaimed Syrian Kurdish Republic Of Rojava is a bulwark in battles against IS [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 March, 2016

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A conference of Kurdish political and military factions in northern Syria will combine cantons into a single federation on Wednesday, but the move was dismissed by regime and opposition representatives.
Three autonomous Kurdish-controlled regions in northern Syria will declare themselves a federal region on Wednesday.

The idea was promptly dismissed by Turkey, the Syrian government team at UN-brokered peace talks underway in Geneva and Syrian opposition sources.

Syrian Kurdish officials made the announcement as it appears that peace talks in Geneva over the Syria war will continue without Kurdish factions being invited.

The de-facto autonomous Kurdish cantons of Jazira, Kobani and Afrin - together known as Rojava - will now be combined into a single federal region, according to a Syrian Kurdish official.

"[This means] widening the framework of self-administration which the Kurds and others have formed," said Idris Nassan, an official in the foreign affairs directorate of Kobani.

He told Reuters the areas would be named the Federation of Northern Syria, and "represent all ethnic groups living there", in reference to Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

Syria partition

The declaration will be made during a conference in the town of Rmelan in Syria, an unnamed official told Kurdish news outlet Rudaw earlier.

A committee will then be formed to prepare the form of the federal administration that will replace the cantons' administration, the source added.

The leader of the dominant Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) Salih Muslim recently appeared open to the idea of a federal solution to a fractured Syrian state.

"What you call it isn't important. We have said over and over again that we want a decentralised Syria - call it administrations, call it
 federalism - everything is possible," he told Reuters.
Syrian Kurdish factions are taking advantage of their de-facto control of several regions in northern Syria to assert their role in Syria's future.

The Syrian-Kurdish PYD party, which dominates the Kurdish alliance controlling the Rojava region, has been left out of peace talks underway in Geneva.

This is in line with the wishes of Turkey, which sees it as an extension of the PKK militant group, which is waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

The powerful PYD-affiliated YPG militia has captured large areas of northeastern Syria from the Islamic State group and Syrian rebels.

It has been the most effective partner on the ground for a US-led air campaign against the extremists, Kurds say, but the group has been accused of "stabbing the [Syrian]rebellion in the back". 

It has also been working closely with the Syrian regime and Russia to take territory from rebel factions in contested areas like Azaz.

Kurdish factions have also been accused of ethnic cleansing against non-Kurds in areas seized from IS.

Syrian Kurds effectively control an uninterrupted stretch of 400km along the Syrian-Turkish border from the frontier with Iraq to the Euphrates River.

They also control a separate section of the northwestern border in the Afrin area.

'Unilateral moves'

A federal region could be a first step toward creating an autonomous region similar to the one Kurds run across the border in Iraq, where their territory is virtually a separate country.

It could also usher in similar demands for federal regions elsewhere in Syria and in effect lead to a partition of the war-shattered country.

However, a Turkish foreign ministry official said his country rejects any moves that would compromise Syria's national unity and considers the territorial integrity of Syria as "essential."

"Unilateral moves carry no validity," the official who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity said, effectively rejecting the Syrian Kurdish faction's plan.

Both the Syrian government and the opposition, at least in theory, reject any form of partitioning of the country.

Both the Syrian government and the opposition, at least in theory, reject any form of partitioning of the country.

Riad Naasan Agha, a member of the Syrian opposition, said such issues should be decided through Syrian institutions including elections.

"What someone declares on their own, far away from the Syrian people is unacceptable," Agha said.

Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari, who also heads the Syrian government team at the UN brokered talks in Geneva, said the negotiations in Switzerland are meant to discuss the unity of Syria and how to preserve its territorial integrity.

"Betting on creating any kind of divisions among the Syrians will be a total failure," Jaafari said.

Agencies contributed to this report

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