Merkel: Refugee returns to northern Syria should be overseen by UN


Any voluntary return of refugees to northern Syria should be overseen by the United Nations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday after a meeting with the leaders of Turkey, Britain and France at the sidelines of a NATO summit in London.

Merkel said she would "remain in contact" with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron on the topic of the voluntary return of refugees.

Merkel added that the four leaders were aligned on the continued fight against the Islamic State extremist group, as well as working towards a political solution to the eight-year conflict in the Middle Eastern nation.

Turkey reaped widespread criticism in October when it launched a military incursion into north-eastern Syria - facilitated by a U.S. troop withdrawal - to attack Western-allied Kurdish militia that had played a key role in fighting the Islamic State extremist group.

Ankara accuses them of being linked to the banned terrorist Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Tuesday's talks provided "strategic clarification," French President Emmanuel Macron said after the talks, while noting that not all differences had been resolved.

"We are evidently concerned about the security of the Turkish territory, but we do not want to confuse everything and in particular forget who fought against Daesh," Macron said, using another name for the Islamic State. "And we know how to distinguish between the two," he added.

Erdogan remained tight-lipped after the talks, merely stating that the meeting "went fairly well."

Before leaving for London, Erdogan had said the leaders would discuss Ankara's "safe zone" plan to resettle refugees in north-eastern Syria, for which he is seeking endorsement.

Earlier on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in on relations with Turkey, which have been strained within NATO by various issues including the Syrian incursion and a decision by Ankara to buy Russian missiles that are not compatible with NATO equipment.

"I like Turkey and I get along very well with the president," Trump said, adding that his controversial decision to withdraw U.S. troops from north-eastern Syria was now being seen as a "great deal."    (dpa)

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