Turkey to set up safe zones in Syria: President Erdogan

Turkey says it will form safe zones in northern Syria so that millions of Syrian refugees hosted by the Ankara government could return to their home country, which is now recovering from nearly eight years of foreign-sponsored militancy.

Speaking in the Turkish port city of Istanbul on Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said nearly 300,000 Syrians had already returned and that he expected millions more to move to the safe areas.

The establishment of safe zones on the Syrian-Turkish border was recently proposed by the United States, which has decided to withdraw its troops from Syria. But America is concerned that its Syrian Kurdish allies in the area would be targeted by Turkey when it withdraws. Ankara regards armed Syrian Kurds as terrorists.

US President Donald Trump earlier suggested the creation of a 30-kilometer safe zone along Turkey’s border with Syria but did not specify who would create or pay for it.

Erdogan said Turkey will be establishing the zones.

“We are aiming in the first phase to create safe zones where four million Syrians who now live in our country can return,” he said in his Monday remarks. “We will soon bring security and peace to the east of the Euphrates.”

Erdogan also said Turkey had held “positive talks” with the US and Russia and pledged to “continue to be in contact with powers which have a military presence in the field.”

Russia has earlier rejected the US proposal.

There was no immediate reaction from Moscow to Erdogan’s remarks.

Turkey considers the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

Turkey says it hosts about four million Syrian refugees.

In December last year, the United Nations (UN)’s refugee agency said that up to 250,000 Syrian refugees could return to Syria as most of the once-militant-held regions were now back under government control.

According to the UN, over five million Syrian refugees still live in neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq.

The return of the refugees began after Syrian army troops liberated Syrian cities, towns, and villages from militants and terrorists.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. But that conflict is winding down.

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