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France delegation secretly meets Syrian Kurdish militias, encourages unity

May 6, 2020 at 1:24 pm

Syrian Kurds in Syria’s Hasakeh province on 6 October 2019 [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images]

A French delegation has been holding talks with Syrian Kurdish factions in north-eastern Syria over the past week, in its latest attempts to create a united Kurdish front in the conflict.

According to the Iraq-based news site Rudaw, which cited local sources, the delegation first met with the group of parties that form the Kurdish National Alliance (HNKS) on Sunday. It was then reportedly set to hold talks with the more powerful Democratic Union Party (PYD) the following day.

Although the meetings were meant to be focused on uniting the various factions, there are some who have claimed that they were not informed of the delegation’s visit and have not been invited for talks, including the opposition Kurdish National Council (ENKS).

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The head of the ENKS’s foreign relations Ibrahim Biro told the paper: “We are not aware of such a delegation.” This was countered, however, by another anonymous source within the Council who stated that some of its officials have met with another French delegation in north-east Syria more than two weeks ago.

This round of meetings, which has caused speculation over its true purpose due to the secrecy surrounding it, is not the first that has taken place between Syrian Kurds and foreign delegations. Throughout the ongoing Syrian civil war, both overt and covert talks and negotiations have been held by the French, Americans and Russians with Kurdish parties and militias seeking to influence them as an effective force in the conflict.

A HNKS source informed Rudaw that on 26 April, the senior US Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS William Roebuck met with Kurdish representatives in the country’s north-east, telling them that he was pleased with recent efforts towards unity between the factions.

France’s courting of the Syrian Kurds is expected to anger Turkey, which sees Kurdish militias such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the PYD as affiliates of the internationally-recognised terror group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that carries out attacks within Turkey.

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It would also not be the first time that France has opposed Turkey’s interests in the region; it condemned the Turkish military’s “Operation Peace Spring” in October last year. The manoeuvre was an effort by Turkey to deter a national security threat by clearing the area near its border with Syria of Kurdish militias Syria and implementing a safe zone in north-east Syria for around two million displaced Syrians.

In 2018, Syrian Kurdish militias urged France to play a more active role in the conflict, with French military forces having arrived in Kurdish-controlled areas months earlier.