US sends senior official on first visit to Kurdish-controlled Syria

Syria's powerful Kurdish forces, smarting over their exclusion from peace talks in Geneva, received a diplomatic boost on the weekend with the first visit by a senior US official to the unrecognised Kurdish autonomous region in northern Syria.

Brett McGurk, the US envoy for the international coalition against Islamic State, visited the self-declared autonomous canton of Kobane on Saturday, just over a year after the Kurds declared they had liberated it from Islamic State militants, canton official Idriss Nassan told dpa Monday.

The battle for Kobane marked the beginning of intense US air support for the Kurds, who have since then captured a swathe of northern Syria from the jihadists.

McGurk wrote on Twitter on Monday that he had spent two days in northern Syria to "review [the] ongoing fight against ISIL," using an acronym for Islamic State.

The US envoy posted a picture of a cemetery in the northern Syrian town, writing: "Paid respects to over 1,000 Kurdish martyrs from #Kobani battle."

The visit came as UN-brokered indirect talks between Syrian government and opposition representatives were starting in the Swiss city of Geneva.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD), which dominates the three Kurdish autonomous regions in northern Syria, had pressed for a place in the talks.

But with the Syrian opposition and its Turkish ally rejecting their participation, they were not in the end invited.

The opposition, including rival Kurdish parties, accuses the PYD of collaborating with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad - charges they deny.

The PYD-linked People's Protection Forces (YPG) and their allies, including smaller Arab and Syriac Christian units, now control about as much Syrian territory as the mainstream opposition.

PYD leader Saleh Muslim said he did not know whether McGurk's visit was a sign of a new development in the Syrian Kurds' relations with the US, but his party would welcome any political or diplomatic advance.

Muslim warned that peace talks would fail without Kurdish participation, and the Kurds would not be obliged to accept any decision they were not party to.

Kobane official Nassan said McGurk's visit was the first at the political level, although US experts had previously visited the region.

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25
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