UPDATES WITH PM YILDIRIM'S MEETINGS
By Ayhan Simsek
MUNICH (AA) - Turkey is ensuring Europe’s security by stopping the flow of foreign fighters, countering illegal migration, and fighting terrorist groups in Syria, Turkey’s premier said on Saturday.
“So far 5,800 foreign fighters have been sent back from our borders, we did not let them in,” Binali Yildirim told the Munich Security Conference, adding that most of these fighters were residents of European countries.
“And we also banned 56,300 potential foreign fighters affiliated with Daesh from travelling to Turkey,” he said, stressing that these measures significantly cut security risks for Europe.
The terrorist group Daesh has been responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks in Western Europe and Turkey, often carried out by foreign fighters who travelled to Syria and Iraq and then returned to their countries.
The premier underlined that Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria ending last March and its strict anti-terrorism measures contributed significantly to eliminating the threat of Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
“Around 10,000 Daesh members are currently under arrest in Turkey,” Yildirim said, giving the most recent figures.
But he criticized Turkey’s NATO ally the U.S. for undermining the fight against Daesh in the region by providing military support to the terrorist group PYD/PKK in northwestern Syria.
“The PYD/YPG is the Syrian branch of a terrorist organization which Turkey has been fighting for 40 years,” referring to the PKK, a terrorist group which has taken some 40,000 lives.
“They are equal, they are the same terror group.”
-'Turkey's borders are NATO's borders'
He repeated Turkey’s call for Washington to end its support for the PYD/PKK terror group, citing its threat to Turkey’s security along the border with Syria, which Turkey is fighting in its current Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria.
“NATO’s southern borders are Turkey’s borders. While we are protecting NATO’s borders here, we cannot find any explanation for the acts of another NATO ally, which is cooperating with a terror organization which attacked our people, threatened our borders,” he stressed.
The U.S. has called the PYD/PKK a “reliable ally” in its fight against Daesh, despite strong protests by Turkey, protests reiterated during U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ankara this week.
The terrorist campaign by the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S., and the EU, has killed some 1,200 people since July 2015 alone.
Addressing the conference, Yildirim underlined that Turkey is fighting several terrorist groups at the same time, not only Daesh and the PYD/PKK, but also the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), which orchestrated the defeated coup attempt in 2016.
“The attempted military takeover on July 15, 2016 demonstrated that the FETO terrorist group is a serious threat, not only to Turkey, but also to the entire world,” he stressed.
The defeated coup attempt of FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen left 250 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Yildirim criticized Washington’s reluctance to take action against FETO members in the country.
“Today this terror group is under protection. Unfortunately, there has not been any legal action against the head of this terror group, who gave the instructions” for the coup bid, he said, referring to Gulen, whose extradition from the U.S. Turkey has sought since the defeated coup.
- Yildirim's meetings
On the sidelines of the conference, Yildirim held separate closed-door meetings with a number of officials, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Iraqi Premier Haidar al-Abadi, Polish Premier Mateusz Morawiecki, and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the chair of Greece's New Democracy Party.
According to Prime Ministry sources, Yildirim and Juncker spoke about Turkish-EU relations, and in particular speeding up the process of Turkish citizens getting visa-free travel in the Schengen zone.
A March 2016 deal between Turkey and the EU envisaged a “one-for-one” formula under which failed asylum-seekers in Europe would be returned to Turkey, while Syrian refugees would be resettled in EU states under a quota system.
The refugee deal was linked to the issue of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU.