Turkey’s ambassador to Canada is defending his country’s president after its incursion into Syria last month.
“Well, there are also those like President Trump who said (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) is a great leader. He did a great job and the ceasefire is holding,” Kerim Uras told Global News Ottawa Bureau Chief Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday’s episode of The West Block.
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Erdogan met with Trump in the White House on Wednesday, a move that was widely criticized. U.S. lawmakers and other world leaders have excoriated Turkey for launching strikes on war-torn Syria.
The country is fighting Kurdish YPG militia forces in an attempt to gain control a section of territory along the country’s border.
Uras said Turkey has now taken a 30-km wide “safe zone” within Syria along the Turkish border but said he doesn’t expect it to expand further.
He claims Turkey wants to make the area safe enough that some four million Syrians who have fled into neighbouring Turkey will return home.
“We want to create the conditions where these people will voluntarily return to their own country, and that was one of the reasons why we wanted to establish the safe zone, because it’s a big burden on us,” he said.
The incursion started early last month, right after Trump announced U.S. troops would be withdrawing. Vice-President Mike Pence helped broker a ceasefire.
Trump’s move was denounced by observers who said it left Kurdish forces, a U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State, vulnerable to attacks.
Turkey considers the Kurds to be aligned with PKK, a militant organization operating within Turkey that has been designated a terrorist group.
Uras said Turkey is not against the Kurds per se — “we are against a terrorist organization, a prescribed terrorist organization, full stop.”
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The United Nations says at least 92 people have been killed in northern Syria since the Turkish incurison began. A UN official said more than 200,000 have fled the fighting and close to 100,000 have been unable to return home.
“At first, when our operation started, there was, of course, the civilians were getting out of harm’s way and moved, but now they have moved back and now we are in the phase of picking things up and like repairing water, distributing medicine, aid, food and returning the area to normal,” said Uras.
He said Turkey has been “very meticulous to uphold international law and humanitarian law” in Syria.
Defeated Islamic State fighters and their families were held in Kurdish-operated prisons in the region targeted by Turkish forces. Some of those are from western countries including Canada.
Turkey has started deporting them to their home countries, but Uras said none of those caught by Turkey’s government are Canadian.
— With files from Mercedes Stephenson, Global News
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