GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. envoy called on Turkey on Friday to help prevent a slaughter in the Syrian border town of Kobani at the hands of Islamic State fighters, saying he feared a repeat of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre when thousands died.
Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations’ envoy to Syria, appealed to Ankara to let “volunteers” cross the frontier so that they can reinforce Kurdish militias defending the town that lies within sight of Turkish territory.
He revived memories of the breakup of Yugoslavia when Bosnian Serb forces marched into the town of Srebrenica, which was supposed to be under U.N. protection, and gunned down more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys at execution sites.
“Do you remember Srebrenica? We do. We never forgot and probably we never forgave ourselves,” de Mistura told a news conference.
Turkey has stationed tanks on hills overlooking Kobani but so far refused to intervene without a comprehensive deal with the United States and other allies on the Syrian civil war. It has also prevented Turkish Kurds from crossing the frontier to reinforce their fellow Kurds defending the town.
“We would like to appeal to the Turkish authorities ... to allow the flow of volunteers at least and their own equipment in order to be able to enter the city and contribute to a self-defence action,” de Mistura said in Geneva.
While much of the population has already fled the Islamic State offensive, 500-700 mostly elderly people were still sheltering in the mainly Kurdish town, while 10,000-13,000 were nearby in a border area between Syria and Turkey.
They were all likely to be massacred if the last remaining exit point from Kobani fell, de Mistura said. “When there is an imminent threat to civilians, we cannot, we should not, be silent.”
Ocalan Iso, the deputy head of the Kurdish forces defending Kobani, reiterated a call for Turkey to open a corridor allowing Kurds from other parts of northern Syria to reinforce the town. “We will not only liberate the Kobani area, but Arab areas also. But if Turkey cuts all the access ... then it proves that the Turkish state is backing Islamic State directly,” he said.
More than 172,000 Syrian Kurds have fled the fighting into Turkey, the U.N. refugee agency UNCHR said, and some gave accounts of paying people-smugglers, wading neck-deep through rivers and seeing landmines kill or maim those trying to escape.
UNHCR said one man reported he had seen seven men beheaded by Islamic State in Manbij, to the west of Kobani. The man, one of 400 people imprisoned in a former school, escaped his own execution only when a bomb hit the building. As he fled he saw human heads mounted on the fence of the main park, UNHCR said.
The United States has been leading air attacks on Islamic State targets both in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is on trial in the Hague for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, including for Srebrenica, Europe’s worst massacre since World War Two.
De Mistura, who followed Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi into the role of U.N. Syria mediator, reiterated that there was no military solution to the Syrian war and nobody could win, but the emergence of Islamic State as a common enemy had provided an opportunity for local ceasefires and ending long-running sieges.
Asked if he would negotiate with Islamic State, said he was “authorised and expected to talk to anyone” if that produced a political solution or a humanitarian relief.
“But I am not proposing, I am not planning, and they are not asking to meet anyone of us,” he said.
Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, editing by John Stonestreet and David Stamp