May 30, 2018 / 12:59 PM / 24 days ago

Talk of Turkish-U.S. control in Syria's Manbij premature: local official

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Turkish assertion that U.S. and Turkish forces will temporarily control northern Syria’s Manbij region is “premature (and) lacks credibility”, a Manbij local official told Reuters on Wednesday.

Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, was responding to a statement by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that U.S. and Turkish forces would hold the Manbij region until a new administration is created.

Manbij has long been seen as a potential flashpoint. The Syrian government and its allies, Kurdish-led militia, Syrian rebel groups, Turkey, and the United States all have a military presence in northern Syria.

Cavusoglu told Turkish broadcaster AHaber that an understanding had been reached with Washington and a timetable for enacting the plans could be decided during talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo next week.

The Manbij Military Council is affiliated with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which control large parts of northern Syria having pushed Islamic State militants out of swathes of the country.

“The Turkish statements are a way of exerting pressure and creating confusion in Manbij, impacting its stability,” Darwish said, adding that no agreement had yet been reached between Turkey and the United States on the future of Manbij.

The SDF is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia which Ankara regards as an extension of the PKK group, which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey for decades. Turkey is angry with the United States, its NATO ally, for backing the YPG in Syria.

Turkey has carried out two military incursions into northern Syria aimed partly at curbing the YPG’s presence, and has repeatedly threatened to send troops to Manbij, where it says the group is also based.

It regards the Manbij Military Council as indistinguishable from the YPG, although the two groups say they are separate.

“The (YPG) withdrew fully after the liberation of Manbij and Turkey knows that there is no YPG in Manbij, and the (U.S.-backed anti-Islamic State) coalition knows,” Darwish said.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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