Syrian envoy due in Turkey for crisis talks

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 15, 2011 6:43 AM
Syrian envoy due in Turkey for crisis talks

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Syrian envoy was due in Turkey on Wednesday for crisis talks with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, days after the Turkish leader described the Syrian government's repression of protests as "savagery."

The once-close relationship between the neighbors appears close to breaking point as thousands of Syrians have fled to Turkey to escape a fierce crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad's security forces.

State-run Anatolian news agency said Assad's envoy, Hassan Turkmani, was due to arrive in Ankara, where he will face Turkish impatience over Syria's repressive tactics and slowness to reform, as well as anger over a burgeoning humanitarian crisis.

As of Wednesday morning, some 8,500 Syrian refugees were lodged in tented camps on Turkey's side of the border. More have been arriving by the day.

Assad asked to send an emissary when he called Erdogan on Tuesday to congratulate him on winning a third term in office.

Erdogan, who had a close rapport with Assad, had said before his re-election that, once the election was over, he would be talking to Assad in a "very different manner," and expressed revulsion over repression being used against the Syrian people.

A Turkish official said the Turkish leadership would probably give Assad's emissary the same message.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was traveling to Hatay province, where tent camps have been established for the Syrian refugees. After gathering first-hand information, he was due to meet Turkmani back in Ankara on Wednesday evening.

Refugee camps have been established in Turkey's Hatay province, across from the Syrian city of Jisr al-Shughour, just 20 km (13 miles) from the border, where Assad's army launched an offensive on Friday to quell anti-government protests.

A Reuters reporter in Guvecci, a village where one of the camps has been established, saw scores of Syrian children inside the camp chanting "Allahu Akbar, Erdogan" and "People want the fall of the regime. Freedom, Freedom."

Media have been barred from entering the camps by Turkish authorities, who say any pictures of the Syrians could put them or their families in danger back home.

"THEY TREAT US LIKE INFIDELS"

A 36-year-old Syrian man in a street in Guvecci, who gave his name as Ahmed and refused to be filmed, gave a taste of what Davutoglu was likely to hear.

"We decided to flee to Turkey after learning troops had arrived in Jisr al Shughour -- I, my wife and six kids. We heard they were burning down the city, including the mosques," he said.

"We came here to protect our family, we're not against them, but they fight us like we were infidels.

"I don't plan to go back until the situation improves there. Some of my relatives were wounded during protests in Jisr al Shughour, one of them was shot in the foot, two were killed, one was shot in the head and is in intensive care now."

Preparations are being made for another influx of refugees far to the east along the 800 km border.

A Turkish Red Crescent official, who requested anonymity, said more tent camps, able to shelter 10,000 people, were being set up near the Turkish city of Mardin and the town of Nusaybin.

Erdogan has called Assad several times since unrest first broke out in Syria three months ago, each time urging reforms and an end to the violence.

In Tuesday's call, Erdogan told Assad to avoid using violence against his people and advised him that reforms should be undertaken as soon as possible, Anatolian reported.

Erdogan also raised concern over protests outside Turkey's embassy in Damascus.

The Turkish English-language newspaper Today's Zaman reported that some 2,000 demonstrators marched to the Turkish embassy in Damascus on Sunday and tried to hoist a Syrian flag.

Erdogan and Assad have worked to boost cooperation and trade between their two countries, which almost went to war in 1998 due to Syria harboring Kurdish militants. Turkey vies with Iran for influence in Damascus.

(Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Guvecci and Simon Cameron-Moore in Istanbul; Editing by Kevin Liffey)