Qamishli, Syria (AFP) – A US-backed Kurdish-led alliance said on Saturday that it is seeking a roadmap for a decentralised Syria in talks with the government which opened in Damascus this week.
The Syrian Democratic Forces alliance, which controls a swathe of the north and northeast, said it had agreed with the government to form joint committees to discuss the major issues after a first round of talks on Thursday and Friday.
The SDF’s political arm, the Syrian Democratic Council, said the aim was to “clear the way for a broader and more comprehensive dialogue” and forge a “roadmap leading to a democratic and decentralised Syria”.
Sihanouk Dibo, an adviser to the main Kurdish faction, the leftist Democratic Union Party (PYD), said he expected the negotiations to be tough.
“It is still very early to talk of an agreement but we are working on it,” he said.
“The negotiations will be long and arduous because the Damascus regime is very centralised.”
Before civil war erupted in 2011, Syria had a highly centralised form of government which provided no constitutional recognition for the rights of the Kurds and other minorities.
But after government forces pulled out of Kurdish-majority areas in 2012, the Kurds seized the opportunity to set up their own administrations and implement longstanding demands such as Kurdish-language education.
The SDF formalised the new administrative arrangements in 2016 with the creation of autonomous cantons in areas under its control that it regards as a model for a federal system nationwide.
The Damascus government has opposed the scope of the self-rule sought by the Kurds but late last year Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said a “form of autonomy” was “negotiable”.
In late May, President Bashar al-Assad said the government was prepared to open talks with the SDF but stressed that it remained ready to use force if necessary to ensure the return of government troops and state institutions to SDF-held areas.
The SDF did not give a date for any new round of talks.
Between them, Assad’s Russian-backed government and the US-backed SDF control around 90 percent of Syrian territory following major defeats for the rebels as well as the Islamic State group over the past two years.
An umbrella group representing most of the rebels has said it wants to hold talks with the government on reform demands of its own.
But its bargaining power has been greatly reduced by its loss of territory in recent months.
Featured Photo: AFP/File / Delil Souleiman. Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, trained by the US-led coalition, take part in a graduation ceremony in the suburbs of the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, on May 21, 2018.