December 21, 2017 / 11:13 AM / 3 months ago

Kurdish-led Syrian groups plan to attend Sochi talks: officials

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Kurdish-led Syrian groups plan to attend Russia’s proposed Syria peace talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Kurdish officials have said.

The Syria peace congress was originally scheduled for Nov. 18 but was postponed and the Kremlin said on Thursday that no new date had been set.

If the invitation is renewed, “we will attend Sochi and every other meeting that concerns the Syrian crisis as representatives of the people’s will” Sihanouk Depo, an official of Syria’s main Kurdish party, PYD, told an affiliated website on Wednesday.

“We are still invited,” Badran Jia Kurd, a senior Kurdish official, told Reuters on Thursday. If the framework for the congress still stands, “we will attend”, said Jia Kurd, an adviser to the administration that governs Kurdish-led autonomous regions of Syria.

It would mark the first time Syria’s main Kurdish groups are brought into peace talks. Although they now run at least a quarter of Syria, they have so far been left out of international talks in line with Turkish wishes.

Before the Sochi talks were postponed, the PYD said in November it had been invited and favored attending.

Since the conflict erupted in 2011, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and its allies have carved out autonomous cantons in the north. The YPG spearheads the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting Islamic State militants with Washington’s backing.

Their territorial grip has expanded since joining forces with the United States, though Washington opposes their autonomy plans.

Turkey views the PYD and the YPG as offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey.

Last month, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said Russia had told Ankara that the PYD would not be invited to the peace talks.

The Kurdish groups share enmities with both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and with neighboring Turkey. This week, Assad described the U.S.-backed militias as “traitors”.

On Wednesday, in an interview with Iran’s Arabic language Al-Alam television, Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad equated the Kurdish-led forces with Islamic State. “There is another Daesh called SDF,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the militant group that until recently controlled swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

In his interview on Wednesday, Depo said: “Any attack from the regime will be a failed venture.”

Reporting by Sarah Dadouch, additional reporting by Ellen Franics, Editing by Angus McDowall and Catherine Evans

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