Fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG). AFP file photo
WASHINGTON — A spokesman for the Kurdish militia known as the YPG, or People’s Protection Units, has strongly denied charges the group has carried out the “ethnic cleansing” of Arabs in lands recaptured from the Islamic State in Syria’s ethnically Kurdish area of Rojava.
"We say to residents of Tal Abyad, there is no reason for you to cross to another country [Turkey]. Our towns are open to you, you are our people and you will return to your towns, villages and properties," YPG spokesperson Redur Khalil was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
The charges were made on Monday in a statement released by more than a dozen Syrian rebel groups that accused the Kurdish fighters of deliberately displacing thousands of Arabs and Turkmen from Tal Abyad and the western countryside of predominantly Kurdish Hasaka province.
Assisted by US airstrikes, the Kurdish YPG forces cleared large swathes of territory from ISIS this week, including the strategic border town of Tal Abyad, known to Kurds as Gire Spi, which served as a main supply route to the extremist-held city of Raqqa.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the US had heard the accusation but had no confirmation of any “ethnic cleansing” by the Kurdish forces.
“I certainly don’t have a battlefield update or a confirmation of the outcomes of specific military actions. We know there are reports about this, but I’d refer you to my colleagues at the Defense Department for anything that goes into more detail about the tactical arrangement of forces inside Syria,” said Rathke, during daily briefing session.
According to the AP, the accusation, which was not backed by evidence of ethnic or sectarian killings, threatened to escalate tensions between ethnic Arabs and Kurds as the Kurdish fighters conquer more territory in northern Syria.
“YPG forces … have implemented a new sectarian and ethnic cleansing campaign against Sunni Arabs and Turkmen under the cover of coalition airstrikes which have contributed bombardment, terrorizing civilians and forcing them to flee their villages,” the joint statement issued by rebel and militant groups said.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the West of displacing Arabs and Turkmen during the aerial bombardments they have used to assist the Kurdish fighters.
"On our border, in Tal Abyad, the West, which is conducting aerial bombings against Arabs and Turkmen, is unfortunately positioning terrorist members of the PYD and PKK in their place," Erdogan was quoted as saying by the AP.
YPG is the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Rojava. The PKK has been in a bloody war with Ankara for the last three decades, seeking greater political and cultural rights for Turkey’s Kurdish population.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by NATO, the European Union and the US.