UK government responds to committee report on PYD/YPG

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    The U.K. government has “limited contact” with the terrorist organization PYD/YPG in Syria and it will use this link to urge the group to “distance themselves from the PKK and its terrorist activity,” British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said.

    The FCO’s remarks came in response to a February report — titled Kurdish aspirations and the interests of the UK — by the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

    “The U.K. Government has limited contact with the PYD/YPG, and none at all with the PKK. In interactions with the PYD/YPG, we raise our concerns about any links they may have with the PKK and urge them to distance themselves from the PKK and its terrorist activity,” the FCO said.

    The committee report published in February 2018 had urged the British government to get a "clear view" of the links between the various terrorist organizations operating in Syria.

    The evidence to an inquiry, which was collected over a period of three months by the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested the YPG “was linked to the PKK”, Tom Tugendhat, the committee’s chairman, had said.

    The FCO “should have a clear view of its own” about the connection between the terrorist organizations in Syria, the report had said.

    The FCO said the U.K. government continued to “closely follow developments in Afrin, and wider north-western Syria.”

    Underlining the recognition of “Turkey’s legitimate interest in the security of its borders,” the FCO repeated its call for de-escalation and the protection of civilians in the region.

    It also pointed out that “the U.K. understands Turkey’s position regarding the PYD/YPG and the PKK,” and “Turkey has a legitimate need to protect its own security.”

    The FCO response said the U.K. has “provided military support, in the form of airstrikes,” to the SDF in the campaign to remove the terrorist organization Daesh from Eastern Syria but “we have not provided any weapons, funds or equipment in direct support of either the SDF or the YPG as an entity.”

    Turkey has numerously warned against international actors cooperating with groups such as PYD/PKK, YPG/PKK, and SDF/PKK, as they are just the PKK under different names.

    The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey as well as the U.S. and EU. In its terror campaign against Turkey, which has lasted for more than three decades, over 40,000 people have been killed, including women and children.

    “We are aware of ideological and organizational links between the PKK and PYD. The PKK and PYD/YPG share similar ideological goals and inspirations” [and …they] “are both influenced by” the ideas of the PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan, the FCO said.

    “We have concerns about governance in PYD areas, in particular its intolerance of political opposition and the lack of inclusivity in its governance structures,” it said.

    SDF controlled areas in Syria

    The British government response to the report also said the areas currently controlled by the SDF should be reintegrated into Syria.

    “Our political approach to areas under SDF control is that these should be reintegrated into Syria through a national political settlement arrived at through the UN-led process in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” it said.

    “This is in line with the clear international commitment to maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity.

    “We will continue to support a political settlement that provides protection for the rights of all Syrians, including the country’s Kurdish population.”

    The FCO added that they are “not providing any direct support to SDF or PYD-led institutions.”

    “We are underlining with international partners, and in our limited contact with PYD and SDF representatives, the need to develop local governance structures which are representative of the population, respect human rights and tolerate political pluralism.”

    Political settlement in Syria

    The U.K. government reiterated its commitment “to working for a political transition in Syria to a government that protects the rights of all Syrians, including the country’s Kurdish population.”

    It said the government “support the principle of full representation of Syrians in the political process but it is for the UN Special Envoy to decide how to involve different groups in the Geneva talks.”

    “The final political settlement in Syria must be for Syrians to decide and we support the principle, enshrined in the 2012 Geneva communiqué and UN Security Council Resolution 2254, that all groups must be represented in this process,” it said.

    “Turkey has also made clear its support for the UN-mediated Geneva process but has stated its opposition to participation by the PYD/YPG in these political talks,” it said.

    The U.K., beyond the Geneva process, “support the territorial integrity of Syria and do not support any unilateral declaration of autonomy,” it added.

    Turkey’s operations

    The government also responded to the committee report regarding Turkey’s military operations against the terrorist organizations Daesh, and PKK/PYD in northern Syria.

    The FCO said “Turkey’s forces and those of the Turkey-backed Syrian opposition (TBO) controlled nearly 2,000 sq. km of Syrian territory in the north of Aleppo province” with the Operation Euphrates Shield.

    “Since then, the (opposition) Syrian Interim Government and the TBO have had a visible role in governance of the Euphrates Shield area, alongside an ongoing Turkish military presence.

    “The U.K. welcomes this significant contribution by Turkey to the Global Coalition’s campaign against Daesh,” it said.

    The response also said they have raised concerns about the scope of the Afrin operation and “Turkey’s declared intention to advance eastward to Manbij.”

    “The potential for direct clashes with US forces supporting the SDF in that location is concerning, and we have urged restraint, de-escalation and dialogue at all opportunities,” it said.

    “The U.K. welcomes Turkish efforts to support a reduction in violence in Idlib, but we remain concerned that the regime and its backers have continued to carry out airstrikes and ground offensives in the areas, in spite of their stated commitment to de-escalation,” it added.

    Turkey on Jan. 20 launched Operation OliveBranch to remove YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Syria's northwestern Afrin.

    On March 18, Turkish troops and Free Syrian Army liberated the Afrin district center.

    Iraq

    The government said it believes that a strong government in northern Iraq (KRG) “within a strong, successful and unified Iraq is the best way to ensure stability and an economy that works for all of Iraq’s people.”

    It said the participation by Kurdish voters in the May 2018 national elections is “one of our immediate priorities.”

    It said the KRG “faces significant challenges with corruption and in cementing its young democracy.”

    “We are concerned by the potential monopolisation of power and curtailment of democracy in the Region,” it said.

    The government response said the U.K. is "also concerned by the extent of KRG’s commitment to safeguarding a free and independent media. We do, and will continue to, challenge them in these areas.”

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