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By Safa Haeri
Posted Wednesday, March 17, 2004

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DAMASCUS, 17 Mar (IPS) Bloody clashes between the Kurds and Arab population in the Syrian Kurdish city of Qameshli continued unabated on Wednesday, increasing the number of Kurds killed at the hands of the Arabs, backed by security forces and armed militia of the ruling Ba’th Party to more than 40, according to reliable Kurdish sources.

According to official sources, fighting erupted last week during a soccer match and caused a stampede by spectators trying to escape, but some residents blamed the ensuing violence on the intervention by security forces dispatched by the Interior Ministry, resulting in clashes and rioting by the Kurds in the city, spreading to nearby Amouda, Ras al-Ain and al-Hassaka, where buildings were also damaged.

Leaders from five Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian Kurdish organisations met on Wednesday in the Iraqi city of Erbil to review the situation in Qamsheli and adopt a "united action" against what one Kurdish source described as "massacre of big scale" of the Syrian Kurds.

In a statement read by the Persian service of Radio France International, the Kurds condemned the attitude of both the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Syrian ally against their Kurds and called for a "peaceful solution" to the question of the Kurds in these countries.

A Syrian Kurd official said he fears that with the No Rooz spring festivities that marks the New Year for Iranians and the Kurds – as well as in most Central Asian nations – approaching, Syrian authorities might increase their crack down on the Syrian Kurds and called on all international human rights organisations to put pressures of Damascus to stop violence against the Kurdish population, estimated at more than 300.000 souls.

Kurdish sources said unrest continued after security forces prevented the Kurds to commemorate the tragedy of Halabja, a small Iraqi Kurdish village near the Iranian border the now toppled and imprisoned Iraqi dictator massacred more than 5.000 Kurds, mostly women, children and elderly, using deadly chemical gas.

But official Syrian sources blamed the riots on "infiltrators" that had "exploited" an already exacerbated situation, abusing what happened in the Qameshli earlier, "targeted citizens and public and private property express the nature of its perpetrators and violate the law".

An official statement carried by the official Syrian news agency SANA said a commission had been formed "to investigate these incidents and reveal their perpetrators and provokers, and the severest punishments will be taken against those who manipulate the security and stability of the homeland and citizens".

A Syrian human rights and defence of political freedoms group said at least 300 people had been rounded up by security forces and called for a dialogue with the government of President Bashar al-Asad for finding a political solution to the situation of Syrian minorities, mostly the Kurds in the one hand and opening up the tight lid of the country’s political atmosphere.

For its part, the London-based Amnesty International confirmed the arrests and expressed concern for the detainees, whom the organisation said might face tortures and ill treatments.

In Damascus, where rights organisations said hundreds of people have been arrested, Kurds blocked the main road leading to the suburb of Dummar and damaged several cars before riot police dispersed them, making several arrests, witnesses said. Police also dispersed Kurdish students who assembled at a Damascus University dormitory, other witnesses said.

Last month Syria's state security court convicted two Kurdish activists of seeking a breakaway state in part of Syria, but commuted their three-year jail sentence to the 14 months they had already served in custody, the British news agency "Reuters" said.

The men had organised a demonstration by Kurds demanding full citizenship and equal rights. Diplomats say their small Yikiti Kurdish party is regarded as a separatist movement seeking a Kurdish entity.

One of the sources said the government was close to announcing a solution to the problem of the stateless Kurds, but propaganda by banned Kurdish groups had held back the process.

The Kurdish unrest in Syria apparently sparked a protest in Belgium late on Saturday, when 40 to 50 Kurds forced their way into the grounds of the Syrian embassy in Brussels but police dispersed them within an hour.

Belgian police said a number of Kurds were arrested. No one was hurt.

Sources close to government thinking said earlier that certain Kurdish politicians were turning the issue "from a soccer match riot into an issue of a political dimension," a reference to demands by some 200,000 Syrian Kurds who are not recognised as citizens. ENDS SYRIA KURDS UNRESTS 17304


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