July 19, 2013 / 12:00 PM / 5 years ago

Syrian Kurdish group aims for independent local administration

* Power vacuum needs filling, Syrian Kurdish group says

* Denies move is a call for separation

* Turkey, Syrian rebels fear possible Kurdish state

By Erika Solomon and Isabel Coles

BEIRUT/ARBIL, Iraq, July 19 (Reuters) - A Syrian Kurdish group said on Friday it aims to set up an independent council to run Kurdish regions until Syria’s civil war has ended, a move likely to alarm Syrian rebels and neighbouring Turkey, both wary of a possible Kurdish state.

Kurdish militias have seized control of districts in northern Syria in the past year since President Bashar al-Assad’s forces focused elsewhere, and are now seeking to consolidate those gains despite deep divisions in their ranks.

Syria’s two-year conflict has pitted the Kurds against Assad’s forces at times, and against the rebels seeking to oust him at others.

Divided between Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish people are often described as the largest ethnic group without a state of their own. Kurdish militants and the government in Turkey have begun peace talks to end a conflict in the country’s southeast that has claimed 40,000 lives.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is proposing a local authority in northeastern Syria, is the strongest local Kurdish group due to its well armed and effective militias. It is believed to be linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group seeking autonomy in Turkey.

Saleh Muslim, the head of the PYD, said the proposals were under discussion by Kurdish groups.

“This is not a call for a separation it is just that for a year now we have been on our own in our own territories and people have needs, they want some kind of administration to run their issues, they cannot be left like that.”

He said once an agreement is reached an election will be held within three to four months to chose administration officials. He expected a final decision in a week or two.

“This administration will be like a temporary government,” PYD spokesman Nawaf Khalil told Reuters from his home in exile in Germany. “We need to protect our borders and our people, we need to do something to improve the economic situation.

“We also militarily have to face both Assad’s regime and the rebels and the Turks. And we hope to try to improve our relationships with all of these neighbours.”


Rebels accuse the PYD of working with Assad and have sporadically fought the Kurds.

The rebels oppose a separate Kurdish entity, as does their ally and neighbour Turkey, which believes the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria could embolden home-grown PKK militants. Mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey is strategically located on the country’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The Kurdish militias, who have allowed both Assad’s and rebel forces to move through their territories, insist they are anti-Assad but do not want their region to suffer the sort of military devastation that has levelled many opposition areas across Syria.

There have been talks since last month between the PYD and its main rival, the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP-S), under the auspices of Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani in Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region. But the two sides have yet to reach an agreement.

The PYD’s opponents have played down the possibility of reaching an agreement but other political leaders have pushed for a deal, citing their concerns over intensifying clashes between the Kurds and the rebels in northeastern Syria.

“The recent fighting proved that the burden is on our shoulders,” said Aldar Khalil of the Higher Kurdish Council, a group formed by Barzani to unite Syrian Kurdish parties,

“We are currently discussing a transitional administration. After that, we want to hold elections within three months. We must all take part,” he said.

PYD militias have been engaged in fierce battles this week with al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels in northeastern Syria and seized the town of Ras al-Ain, which borders Turkey.

The PYD militias are also fighting the rebels for control of local oil fields, highlighting a struggle not only to establish dominance in the region but to assert control of the area’s natural resources.


A PYD source said that political leaders are already circulating a list of names to run the proposed administration.

Hamid Darbandi, a Kurdish Iraqi official, said that the PYD’s proposal had still not been agreed by other parties. Another senior source, who asked not to be named, said a deal for governance in the area was necessary.

“The Syrian government is no longer capable of providing services and security,” the source said. “It may be necessary for these Kurdish groups to develop arrangements and institutions to deliver basic services and security, and also prevent the extremist (rebel) groups from terrorizing the population.”

PYD spokesman Khalil said his group also hoped to develop a draft for a transitional constitution in the region and put it to a referendum. But he denied this would lead to separation.

“It will be a framework for local administration. It is not uncommon for different regions in a country to have varying sets of laws and governance,” he said.

The main sticking point between the PYD and its rivals, according to sources at the talks in Arbil, is the issue of who would run armed forces in the region.

The PYD says its militias should control armed protection, warning of a factional conflict within Syria’s civil war if other parties are allowed to maintain their own militias. It has argued that other groups’ fighters should be absorbed within its ranks, but other units have rejected this.

Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Giles Elgood

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