Turkish FM: 50,000 return to areas Ankara controls in Syria

A general view shows people passing along a destroyed street in Al-Bab a month after Turkish-backed rebels recaptured it from Daesh. (AFP)
Updated 01 April 2017
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Turkish FM: 50,000 return to areas Ankara controls in Syria

BEIRUT: Tens of thousands of displaced Syrians and refugees have returned to an area controlled by Turkey and Turkish-backed opposition fighters in northern Syria, Turkey’s foreign minister said Saturday, and US-backed Kurdish-led fighters pressed their offensive in the north near a town held by the Daesh group.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s comments came three days after Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield that began in August had ended after its troops and allied rebels secured territory along the border between Turkey and Syria.
Cavusoglu said some 50,000 people have returned from Turkey to areas that have been captured by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters, adding that security in these areas should eventually be handed to local forces.
“People started returning to these places,” Cavusoglu said during a visit to the coastal city of Izmir in western Turkey. “Our soldiers are still there and we need to conduct the work there. We need to establish a terror-free zone.”
“The necessary work needs to be done for security to be handed over to local forces. We are continuing our work, including train and equip,” he added.
Turkey sent ground troops into northern Syria in August to support Turkey backed Syrian opposition forces in clearing a border area of Daesh group militants and to curb Kurdish territorial expansion. Since then dozens of Turkish soldiers have been killed most of them in an around the northern town of Al-Bab that was once and IS stronghold.
Nearby in northern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces tried under the cover of airstrikes by the US-led coalition to besiege the IS stronghold of Tabqa. The city is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Daesh group.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said IS detonated two vehicles rigged with explosives during the fighting, adding that SDF fighters are now trying to capture the Safsafeh area, which would put Tabqa under total siege. SDF fighters captured an air base from IS outside Tabqa earlier this week.
The SDF said in a statement that its fighters repelled an IS counteroffensive northwest of the city, killing and wounding a number of extremists.
Meanwhile, in central Syria, hundreds of opposition fighters and their families left the city of Homs after being evacuated from the last rebel-held neighborhood of Al-Waer.
State news agency SANA said 1,860 people, including 531 fighters, left Al-Waer toward the country’s north in the third evacuation from the district in two weeks. More evacuations were scheduled for the coming weeks.
State TV showed gunmen, some of them wearing masks, as they boarded buses in the city while carrying automatic rifles. The deal to evacuate Al-Waer was brokered by Russia, and Russian troops were seen in the city observing the evacuation.
Unlike the previous two evacuations, in which the fighters and their families headed to the town of Jarblous on the border with Turkey, Saturday’s evacuees headed toward the rebel-held province of Idlib.
Opposition activists have criticized the agreement, saying it aims to displace 12,000 Al-Waer residents, including 2,500 fighters. The Observatory has called the evacuees “internally displaced” people.
The government has rejected allegations that the Homs deal and similar agreements in other besieged areas amount to the forced displacement of civilians.


Algeria deports nearly 400 migrants back to Niger

Updated 59 min 47 sec ago
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Algeria deports nearly 400 migrants back to Niger

  • The IOM and EU are intensifying efforts to return African migrants home
  • 391 migrants from 16 west and central African countries had arrived in Assamaka

NIAMEY: Algeria has deported nearly 400 African migrants trying to reach Europe, sending them back over the Sahara desert into neighboring Niger, the UN migration agency (IOM) and Niger said on Sunday.
The IOM and European Union are intensifying efforts to return African migrants home, after thousands have died making the dangerous crossing to Europe across the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats. Many get stuck before ever reaching Africa’s northern coast, either in Libya, where they suffer slavery and abuse at the hands of militias, or Algeria.
IOM operations officer Livia Manente told Reuters in an email that the group of 391 migrants from 16 west and central African countries had arrived in the Nigerien town of Assamaka on Friday on about 20-30 vehicles, after being stopped while heading to work in various Algerian cities.
“They claim their phones were confiscated and that conditions were poor — not much food and water, crowded rooms),” she said. “They were transported in trucks after the locality of In Guezzam and then obliged to walk across the border ... including families with pregnant women and children.”
Aboubacar Ajouel, the mayor of Agadez, the last destination for the migrants, confirmed that they had arrived.
Algeria declined to confirm this particular deportation, but said that 20,000 migrants had been prevented from reaching Europe by Algerian authorities since January, thanks to security measures put in place at its borders with Mali and Niger.
“We have no choice but to prevent them,” Hassen Kacimi, director of Algeria’s interior ministry in charge of migration, told Reuters by telephone.