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Defense minister says only Turkish troops should be in Syrian safe zone

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Only Turkish forces should deploy in a planned safe zone in northeast Syria, Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted by the state-owned Anadolu news agency as saying on Friday, Reuters reported.

Turkey wants to set up the safe zone with logistical support from allies after US troops pull out of Syria. It says the safe zone should be cleared of the US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist group.

Turkey’s plans have stirred tensions with Moscow, which said this week that establishing a safe zone inside Syria would need the consent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

That is likely to be an unappealing prospect for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has called for Assad to step down after years of civil war that has shattered Syria.

On Friday Anadolu quoted Akar, who is in Germany for the Munich Defense Summit, as saying it would not be “suitable or sufficient” for countries from an international coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to secure the safe zone along 440 kilometers of border territory east of the Euphrates River.

“The safe zone isn’t for Turkey alone, but also for the safe return of Syrian refugees who have had to leave their homes back to their country. Only Turkey should be present in the safe zone,” Akar said, according to Anadolu.

Erdoğan said on Thursday uncertainty over the withdrawal remained. Earlier this month, Erdoğan said he had not yet seen an acceptable plan from the United States on the creation of the safe zone.

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