Safe haven aims to protect Syrian civilians: Turkish PM

Davutoglu says Turkey's demand for a safe zone in Syria is based only on humanitarian concerns amid Assad regime's ongoing air offensives

Safe haven aims to protect Syrian civilians: Turkish PM

World Bulletin/News Desk

Turkey's request for a safe haven inside Syria is based only on the need to safeguard Syrian civilians from attacks by the Assad regime and the ISIL, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said.

Speaking during a joint press conference with Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong in the Turkish capital of Ankara on Tuesday, he said: "Turkey's demand for a safe zone in Syria should not be mistaken for a military buffer zone for itself."

Turkey has been pushing for a no-fly zone and a safe haven in Syria near the Turkish border for Syrian refugees as thousands of civilians from the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani continue to flee into Turkey to seek refuge from relentless ISIL attacks.

However, officials from the U.S., leading the international coalition that has been pounding ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria, have insisted that the proposal is not on the table for now. 

Davutoglu emphasized that Turkey wanted the safe haven to be a place where Syrian people fleeing attacks and air bombardments could feel secure.

He noted that, without a safe haven, the most massive refugee flows out of Syria throughout the country's civil war occurred during relentless air bombardments by the Assad regime on cities like Aleppo.

"If our request for a safe haven that dates back to late 2011 were accepted then, we would not have seen such a massive number of refugees seeking shelter in other countries," he said.

More than 180,000 Kurdish refugees from Kobani have crossed into Turkey since ISIL militants launched an offensive on Kobani in mid-September.

The group is now said to be on the brink of capturing the key town.

The Turkish Parliament ratified a motion on October 2 authorizing Davutoglu's government and the armed forces to deploy troops to Syria and Iraq, if necessary, to fight any group threatening the country.

'Significant progress'

Meanwhile, Turkish and visiting Singaporean officials also signed a joint declaration on strategic partnership after bilateral and interdelegational talks before the press conference in Ankara.

Davutoglu said significant progress have been made regarding a free-trade agreement between Turkey and Singapore that began earlier this year.

He added that they agreed to have closer contact between businesspeople of the two countries, at a business council meeting held on Monday in Istanbul.

"We would like to see more Singaporean investors in Turkey," he said.

Davutoglu noted that they also agreed to further enhance and advance their cooperation in air and sea transportation and the defense industry.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore would cooperate with Turkey in a wide range of areas, particularly civil aviation.

"Istanbul has become a very important air hub ... I think both countries have intentions to develop their air hubs ... and we look forward to enhancing our air services," he added.

Asked how Singaporean investors see Turkey amid regional difficulties, he said Singapore would invest in Turkey despite the problems in the area.

He said: "We want to do business around the world, in as many countries as we can especially in our neighborhood.

"We see opportunities to cooperate and work together in many parts of the world whether there is peace or regional difficulties."

"Singapore sees Turkey as the country of opportunity. I invited a business delegation to Turkey. More than 20 companies have come with me to Istanbul and Ankara. Some of them are already doing business in Turkey," he added.

He also voiced support for Turkey's bid to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2015-2016 term. 

Safe haven a 'must' for refugees, experts say

Although no agreement has been made about the "safe heaven," Turkey's insistent attitude has made the U.S. more mild-mannered towards the issue.

"Turkey has been pushing for a safe zone for about 2-3 years now. Turkey wants to deal with ISIL extensively, with a plan that they believe in," says Oytun Orhan from the Ankara-based think-tank Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM).

"A safe zone will make the opposition act against ISIL more comfortably through these zones."

Another specialist in the Ankara-based think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), Mehmet Yegin, thinks a safe zone is a "must" for the refugees.

"The refugee problem is getting out of control, a safe zone will meet the basic needs of the people," he said.

However, there are still uncertainties about the exact location of the safe zone because different armed groups have taken control of nearly 911 kilometres of the Turkish-Syrian border. 

ISIL, Free Syrian Army and Syrian-Kurdish People’s Defense Forces (YPG) controls areas in the region. Experts think a safe zone can be established in Free Syrian Army-controlled areas of Idlib and Aleppo.

Orhan says the Turkish government naturally wants a U.S.-led coalition force in the area to protect the safe zone.

"However, if ISIL, YPG or the PKK directly attack Turkey, then the Turkish army can also defend itself without being part of coalition," he said.

Meanwhile, Yegin stresses that safe zones would provide an opportunity to train the Syrian opposition against ISIL. The Free Syrian Army could become stronger and recruit more people as a part of the training.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Ekim 2014, 14:03