US-backed Syrian Kurds agree to ‘roadmap’ with Assad government

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The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) says it has agreed to work with the Syrian government towards a “democratic, decentralised Syria,” as it moves towards cementing its autonomy in the war-ravaged country.

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the SDF, issued a short statement on Saturday saying it would form committees to develop negotiations and “chart a roadmap to a democratic, decentralised Syria”.

Founded in 2015, the Kurdish group controls between 25-30 percent of Syria, and backs a federal country made up of autonomous cantons in various regions.

It has already set up cantonal administrations in areas it controls in the north, including the Kurdish-majority areas of Hasakeh and Kobane, which raise their own revenues and operate their own police and other services.

‘Without preconditions’

Riad Darar, the SDC’s co-chair, said on Friday the talks in Damascus were aimed at “working towards a settlement for northern Syria,” as it was it was time to “solve our problems ourselves”.

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“We hope that the discussions on the situation in the north will be positive,” Darar added, noting they were being held “without preconditions”.

Holding territory mainly along the northern border with Turkey, the SDF also controls the Arab-majority city of Raqqa, which Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) previously declared as its capital.

SDF fighters captured the city last October with support from a US-led coalition in their most high-profile victory of the war.

However, the Kurds have grown wary of the United States, and have been put on guard by conflicting statements by Washington over its plans in Syria.

In the last year, they have lost the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria to Turkish-backed rebels, who have also threatened to seize other territory held by the alliance west of the Euphrates River.

Only intervention by Washington has prevented Turkish troops from seizing the hard-won town of Manbij from the SDF, whose Kurdish units have pulled back.

Open to negotiations 

The Syrian government has been open to negotiations with the SDF over autonomy since last year, with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem saying Damascus could sit with the Kurds and listen to their demandsonce ISIL was defeated.

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Saturday’s announcement comes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, recently took back most of the country’s rebel-held areas including the city of Deraa, which was the birthplace of Syria’s uprising seven years ago.

Alongside the military offensive, the government has also struck “reconciliation” deals – essentially a negotiated capitulation of a number of villages that have been in rebel hands for years – to restore government control there.

The Syrian civil war started as a largely peaceful uprising against Assad in March 2011, but quickly developed into a full-scale conflict after the Syrian leader refused to concede power.

The UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, estimated at least 400,000 people had died over the first five years of conflict. The current death toll is unknown.

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