Swedish delegation concludes visit to northeast Syria
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A Swedish diplomatic delegation headed by Stockholm’s Special Envoy to Syria Per Orneu left northeast Syria on Wednesday after a visit that lasted several days.
During their stay, the envoys met with several officials from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and also the Kurdish National Council (KNC).
“Public European delegations have normally darted into North and East Syria for a few hours, collected their ISIS-linked citizens and departed - sometimes even framing these visits over tea and biscuits as ‘daring raids’ into hostile territory,” Thomas McClure, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center, told Kurdistan 24.
“Other delegations have stayed longer, such as unofficial visits from British parliamentarians. But this is the first such protracted, official and wide-ranging visit by an official governmental delegation.”
“The fact that many Western countries have been able to safely and securely visit NES (Northeast Syria) to secure the return of ISIS-linked nationals shows the door is open for more diplomatic visits,” McClure continued. “Hopefully other nations will follow Sweden’s example, and engage with the political and civil administration of North and East Syria as trusted and invaluable partners in the region, rather than limiting their support and engagement to the military field.”
Their journey came after a tense press conference on Oct. 13, where Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde was heavily criticized by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu over her comments that Turkey should withdraw its troops from north Syrian areas it occupies.
Pro-Turkish government media criticized the Swedish delegates’ mission.
Aldar Khalil, a member of Democratic Union Party (PYD) leadership told Kurdistan 24 that they see the visit and Sweden’s recent actions regarding Syrian Kurds and ongoing Kurdish unity talks as constructive.
“There have been positive opinions and views. You saw how the Swedish foreign minister in Ankara showed this stance as Sweden, but also as the European Union,” he said.
“All of this, as well the ongoing developments in the region, are encouraging Sweden to clearly state their position and this visiting delegation is a representation of that policy.”
Although the Kurdish National Unity Parties (PYNK), which is close to the PYD and the Kurdish National Council (KNC), have been holding Kurdish unity talks with support from the United States for more than seven months now, the KDP and allied groups welcome any additional international support.
Mohammed Ismail, a senior leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party–Syria (KDP-S) and member of the KNC presidency, told Kurdistan 24 that they had “expressed our opinions to the visiting delegation with regards to the intra-Kurdish dialogue [in NES], the situation of the Kurdish people in general, and the political developments in our region and the Syrian opposition.”
He added that the head of the delegation “spoke of Sweden’s position in supporting the ongoing dialogue between the Kurds and ways that they could support our region internationally. There were serious discussions concerning regional developments and the threats against our people.”
Democratic Left Party Secretary General Salih Gheddo, a member of the leadership of PYNK, told Kurdistan 24, that the delegates “expressed their utmost support for intra-Kurdish dialogue and said that they would be available to help in any way possible.”
“We, as the PYNK, emphasized to the Swedish delegation that we are decisive in progressing this dialogue so that Kurdish political movements are united and the Kurds can play an active role in resolving the Syrian crisis.”
However, local and diplomatic sources have denied reports in Swedish media and local Kurdish media that suggested trials for foreign fighters will be conducted in northeast Syria under the sponsorship of Stockholm.
“For clarity, Sweden has not officially agreed to sponsor AANES’ planned trials for foreign ISIS members,” McClure told Kurdistan 24.
The AANES has requested support from a number of European countries during various visits to Europe made before the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe for plans to put foreign Islamic State suspects on trial in Syria. So far, the proposal has received only limited support.
Nevertheless, the local administration is still planning to put a number of foreign fighters on trial even without foreign involvement, possibly starting initial hearings as soon as early in the new year.
Editing by John J. Catherine
Additional reporting by Lava Ased