SDF Commander General: Negotiations on ‘safe zone’ continue

The indirect talks with the Turkish state continue, explained SDF Commander General Mazlum Abdi, adding that a final agreement on a buffer zone in northern Syria has not been reached yet.

According to Mazlum Abdi, the General Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), there is yet no final agreement on the establishment of a buffer zone in northern Syria. The indirect negotiations between the SDF and Turkey are ongoing. During the talks between the US and Turkey in recent days, both proposals by the SDF and the Turkish state have been discussed. The SDF proposal includes security along the entire border in northern Syria.

Abdi spoke to ANHA (Hawar News Agency) on the current situation in northern Syria. Highlights from the interview are as follows.

A "safe zone" or "buffer zone" in northern Syria is being discussed. How do you name this planned area?

The real issue is border security. As is well known, there is a security problem with Turkey in the border region. The planned zone is called a "safe zone" by some parties. It could be called like this or a different way. What is essential, however, is the intended content, and that is border security.

There have been three-day talks between the US and Turkey. As SDF, did you convey your opinion?

It is a long process. When the US announced its withdrawal from the region at the end of last year, the Turkish state immediately threatened to invade the region. For this reason we demanded the establishment of such a zone. We know all too well that Rojava and Northeast Syria pose no threat to the Turkish state. There is no reason or base for Turkey to put forward such an excuse. Therefore, we have explained our desire for the US to mediate between us and the Turkish state and expressed our willingness to solve the problem through dialogue. This process has been going on since then. There have been various discussions, the Turkish state has brought its threats to the highest level and deployed troops to the border. This further increases the likelihood of an attack. Of course, the threats of attack have also intensified the initiatives of the mediators. The most recent discussions have taken place within our knowledge.

So, were your opinions discussed in the talks between the US and Turkey in Ankara?

Right. When the "security Zone" was first brought up for discussion, we as SDF presented our own suggestions and explained our opinions on the matter. We presented our project to the US. The Turkish side has its own opinion on this topic. The talks negotiate these two views. Turkey has so far consistently insisted on its own demands. In my opinion, our project is very understandable and reasonable. It takes into account the safety concerns of both sides. Therefore, I assume that it will be essential in the implementation of the project.

There have been numerous reports in the media about the talks in Ankara. There have been various comments and in some reports even the supposedly taken decisions have been enumerated. Officially, however, there is still no explanation of the details. It is speculated about the extent of the planned zone and a possible closure of airspace. Can you tell us what has really been decided in Ankara?

First of all, I would like to say that the talks are still ongoing. The current situation is a problem for us because the Turkish state is constantly threatening with war. It is important for us that the problems be solved through dialogue. We are not interested in a war.

You have previously stated that there are indirect talks with Turkey.

Yes, the US is currently acting as an intermediary between us and Turkey. They constantly transmit the opinion of the Turkish state and vice versa. Both sides tell which points they accept and which they do not. The agreement, which has been concluded between the US and Turkey, indicates that negotiations are continuing. We consider that to be positive. It does not contain any details.

It has been speculated that an agreement has been reached on a "safe zone" between Girê Spî and Serêkaniyê and that the area should reach between 5 and 14 kilometers inland. Can you say something about that?

I can say something about our suggestion here. Our project covers the entire area between the Tigris and the Euphrates. We do not just want a partial zone, we rejected that. If there happens an agreement, it must apply to all of Rojava - northern and eastern Syria. The area between the Euphrates and Tigris must reach five kilometers inland. Between Girê Spî and Serêkaniyê this depth will reach nine kilometers in some places and up to 14 kilometers in a very small area.

At what location will it be 14 kilometers?

The place lies between Girê Spî and Serêkaniyê. There is a stream that forms the border there.

So, can we say that a clear decision on the question of a "safe zone" between Girê Spî and Serêkaniyê has not been made?

No, there is no such decision, but there is a demand that implementation be started in this area. Then come the regions of Kobanê, Qamishlo and Dêrik.

Why do you want this zone to cover the entire border region? And why does the Turkish state want the area between Girê Spî and Serêkaniyê?

If there is an agreement and negotiation, we believe that it should be general and not just for one region. Rojava and northeastern Syria constitute one single area, there is no difference between these places. That's right, mostly Arab people live in Girê Spî and Serêkaniyê, but this region is also part of Syria. It is no different than Kobanê, Qamishlo and Dêrik. An agreement must therefore apply to entire Syria and to all areas that we control. Because we don’t want to take a part of Syria, we don’t approve that. In practice, however, it is not possible to implement such an agreement in all areas at the same time. The Turkish state has named a region that should form the beginning. For us it is not a big problem where the beginning is made.

Which forces will be represented in the zone to be formed and who will take over the coordination?

According to the agreement, we will withdraw our forces five kilometers inland from the border. In their place will come local forces, i.e. the military councils formed by local people. They will cooperate with the forces of the international coalition and provide security.

There is also speculation that Turkey wants to and will use their airspace above the safe zone to be formed. Is there such a decision?

No, that was demanded, but not accepted. We would never accept it. There is no need for that anyway. The areas designated as "safe zone" are already visible for Turkish reconnaissance aircraft. However, if they are allowed to fly over this area, it can also provide information about more extensive areas and that would be risky.

Turkish authorities stated after the talks in Ankara that they would send Syrian refugees through a corridor to be formed within the mentioned zone, and settle them in the region. Is there any agreement and what is your opinion on this?

First, I would like to say that the term "peace corridor" is used only by the Turkish state. It was first used in the Turkish National Security Council meeting. For us, this name has no official value. Our areas have always been the safest and most peaceful areas in Syria anyway, not places of terror as the Turkish state claims. In addition, we have stated several times that we wish for a return of the people of the region. However, these are only those that come from northern and eastern Syria. In addition, we set the condition that those who come from this region but joined al-Nusra, DAESH (ISIS) or other mercenary groups and committed atrocities against Kurds, Arabs and other peoples of the region can return only to face a trial. They can live in this region only after the completion of judicial procedures.

You said that the negotiations are still going on. What effect will it have on areas like Jarablus, Azaz, Bab, and above all Afrin, when the talks come to a positive conclusion?

I am convinced that in the case of an agreement on North and East Syria, the occupation will be weakened in the places you mention, and in particular in Afrin. This would increase the likelihood that the occupation will be completely stopped. For this very reason, the Turkish state will not approve that easily the kind of agreement we are talking about.

Despite ongoing negotiations, the threats of Turkish authorities continue. What do they seek to achieve with it?

The threats do not show the strength of the Turkish state, but its weakness. We know that there are internal problems there. It is clear to all that Turkey always points to external problems in an effort to direct the public's attention to outside. Since we know the Turkish state, we are not surprised. However, as SDF we consider the matter from a military perspective. At our border there is still a deployment of Turkish troops. The danger of war is by no means over and it is not certain how the talks will end. Therefore, we must continue our struggle, and the people must also expand their resistance.