April 20, 2016 / 3:36 PM / 3 years ago

Kurds in main Syrian opposition back long-term federalism plan

GENEVA (Reuters) - Kurdish officials in the main Syrian opposition bloc at peace talks in Geneva said on Wednesday they backed the idea of an autonomous political federation in northern Syria, but dismissed as illegal PYD Kurds moves to seek autonomy.

The PYD and its powerful YPG military wing control three provinces in the north of the country and have declared they would push for a vote to unite the areas in a federal system that appears aimed at creating a self-run entity within Syria.

That initiative drew rebukes from the Damascus government, neighboring power Turkey and Washington. It could also further complicate U.N.-backed peace talks where the PYD have not been invited.

Abdul Hakim Bachar, a Kurdish representative of the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which includes three Kurdish negotiators, told reporters that Syria would need federalism in the future.

“I believe federalism will be best solution for Syria because of the disputes the regime has created between the Syrian people,” he said. “I think it’s the best solution.”

However, he said it had to be decided only once President Bashar al-Assad had stepped aside and that the Syrian people as a whole had been consulted.

“We would pressure to have a federal state at that time, but the federal area announced now (by the PYD) is not agreed among the people,” Bachar said. “It will make public opinion work against the Kurds, because we have always been seen as separatists and this decision will reinforce this vision.”

While talks to end the five-year conflict in Syria struggle, the plans are taking shape independently of U.N.-led diplomacy and creating facts on the ground in an area of the country known in Kurdish as Rojava.

The PYD says the Kurdish officials within the HNC do not represent the Kurdish people on the ground and that instead they should be negotiating in Geneva on behalf of the Kurds.

“If representation comes at gunpoint then of course the PYD is representative of the Kurds, but ... I am sure we represent 70 to 80 percent of Kurdish people,” Bachar said.

“If representation is determined by gunpoint then we could also say Islamic State represents half of Syria.”

Turkey, which has blocked the PYD’s participation in the talks, fears growing Kurdish sway in Syria is fuelling separatism among its own minority Kurds. It considers the PYD’s military wing to be an ally of the PKK, which has fought an insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in southeast Turkey.

The HNC and its Kurdish partners say the PYD is colluding with the Syrian government and must make it categorically clear that it has no ties to Damascus and wants a political transition without Assad.

Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Jon Boyle

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