Kurds declare federal system in northern Syria amid criticism

Syrian Kurds declared a federal system of administration in the country's north on Thursday, drawing instant criticism from the government and opposition forces alike.

Members of the main Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and leaders of allied religious and ethnic groups endorsed the system for Kurdish-controlled areas at a conference held in Remilan in Syria's north-eastern al-Hassakeh province.

In a statement at the end of the two-day gathering, some 200 conference participants said the federal system could be "a model" for resolving Syria's crisis, now in its sixth year.

"Syria is for all the Syrians, and that is what federal rule is all about," attendees said in the statement, which was read out loud at a press conference in al-Hassakeh.

The statement added that the enclaves covered by the federal system are part of Syria's main territory, an emphasis aimed at dispelling fears that the newly-declared federation signals a breakaway from the war-torn country. 

The conference attendees elected a 31-member body tasked with formulating a "comprehensive legal and political vision" for the federal system within six months, according to the statement.

"During the six months, we'll discuss and lay the groundwork for the federal system," Omar Alloush, a representative of Kobane, one of three Kurdish-controlled enclaves to be covered by the federal system, told dpa by phone.

"All parties are invited to join us in this system," Alloush added, calling the move "historic."

The Syrian government and the opposition, in a rare show of unity, have opposed the creation of the federal region.

"Any declaration related to federation is worthless and will have no legal, political, social or economic impact," Syria's official news agency SANA quoted an unnamed official at the Foreign Ministry as saying.

The representatives elected Hadiya Yousef, a Kurdish woman, and Mensur Slum, an Arab man, as the assembly's co-presidents, according to the pro-Kurdish Hawar news agency.

The declaration of the federal system prompted Kurds living in the northern town of Ras al-Ain to take to the streets in celebration, Hawar reported.

There is concern the move could lead to further fragmentation and partition within Syria, with the National Coalition main opposition group saying the step "confiscates" the will of Syrians. 

"Determining the form of the Syrian state, whether central or federal, is not a decision of one faction alone," the Western-backed alliance said in a statement.

The move is also set to roil neighbouring Turkey, which has been growing increasingly alarmed by the independent strides of Syrian Kurds.

Turkey is fighting Kurdish rebels on its own territory, where the minority group is pushing for greater autonomy and rights.

In late 2013, the PYD declared autonomy in the cantons of Kobane and Efrin in Syria's Aleppo province and Jazira in al-Hassakeh.

The first two cantons, in the east and centre of northern Syria, have since been connected, after territory was seized from the Islamic State terrorist militia with the help of US airstrikes.

Efrin remains an enclave, with Islamic State still controlling territory separating it from the other Kurdish-controlled areas. However, the extremist group is ceding ground in the area amid an ongoing offensive.

The PYD has been excluded from UN-sponsored peace talks underway in Geneva between the government and the opposition.

The Kurds are estimated to be Syria's biggest ethnic minority, making up around 10-15 per cent of the country's pre-war population of 23 million.

Last update: Fri, 18/03/2016 - 00:55

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