A panel of United Nations war crimes investigators has called on Turkey to rein in allied militants in northern Syria, who may have committed a range of war crimes against civilians, including hostage-taking, rape and torture.
In a report covering the first half of the current year and published on Tuesday, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said militants of the so-called Syrian National Army, also known as the Free Syrian Army, detain civilians and transfer them to Turkey for prosecution, adding that such acts could amount to the war crime of unlawful deportation.
The panel warned that assassinations and rapes of civilians were on the rise in war-ravaged Syria.
“In Afrin, Ra’s al-Ayn and the surrounding areas, the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army may have committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture, and rape,” panel chair Paulo Pinheiro told a news briefing.
“Turkey should act to prevent these abuses and ensure the protection of civilians in the areas under its control,” he said.
Panelist Hanny Megally said Ankara wields influence over militants affiliated with the so-called Syrian National Army as it has funded, trained, and allowed the terrorists to enter Syria from Turkish territory.
“Whilst we can’t say Turkey is in charge of them and issues orders and has command control over them, we think that it could use its influence much more to bring them in to check and certainly to pressure them to desist from the violations being committed and to investigate them,” Megally added.
Turkish troops launched a barrage of artillery rounds at Okaiba and Sawagia villages in the northern countryside of Syria’s northwestern province of Aleppo two days earlier.
Ankara has been providing support to militants operating to topple the Damascus government since early 2011.
Last year, Turkey seized control of the border town of Ras al-Ain after it launched a cross-border invasion of northeastern Syria with the help of its allied armed groups to push Kurdish militants affiliated with the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from border areas.
Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).