By Merve Aydogan and Satuk Bugra Kutlugun
Turkey is "seriously" looking into looting claims in Syria’s Afrin town center, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.
The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army recently cleared the town center of YPG/PKK-Daesh terrorists during Operation Olive Branch that was launched on Jan. 20.
"We -- the Turkish nation, state and government -- are against everything inhumane," Cavusoglu told Anadolu Agency’s Editors’ Desk in capital Ankara.
"Our soldiers and the Free Syrian Army are not YPG/PKK terrorists."
The foreign minister said terrorist groups like the YPG/PKK-Daesh carried out looting in Afrin during their attempts at ethnic cleansing.
He said all complaints about looting would be taken seriously.
"When there are complaints on such an issue, we have to take it seriously."
He said the sweep and clearing military activities as part of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s remain ongoing in Afrin.
He added that Turkish aid agencies -- the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and the Turkish Red Crescent – were simultaneously providing humanitarian aid to locals who were returning home.
Manbij operation with US
He asked the international community to provide support to the people returning to their homes in Afrin “instead of believing in YPG/PKK propaganda; we must discuss what we can do for the safe return of those people.”
About the possibility of cooperating with the U.S. in an operation in Syria's Manbij, the minister said a roadmap was being discussed.
He underlined that the roadmap on Manbij was set to be finalized by Turkey and U.S. on March 19 had Rex Tillerson remained on his post.
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that Tillerson would be replaced.
Nevertheless, he said the two countries were expected to move towards the implementation phase.
“YPG will withdraw from here [Manbij]; YPG’s withdrawal will be monitored… Then, the question of who will maintain the security of this region will be addressed.
“As soon as YPG leaves, Turkey and the U.S. will act jointly there. We will also take measures regarding security together.”
He said the second phase of the roadmap includes the administration and security of the area in Manbij, adding that both of these aspects would be determined through demography once YPG/PKK retreats from the area.
"Demography is going to be the key criteria in Manbij," Cavusoglu said.
Turkey, EU ties
“Once the roadmap on Manbij gets successfully implemented, [we] will then move on to cities located to the east of Euphrates where the same model will be implemented,” he added.
He also said if the Manbij model gets implemented successfully then there would be no need for an operation in Sinjar.
However, if the plan in Manbij remains unimplemented, then there would be only one thing to do: “To eliminate terrorists.”
The terrorists would be hit “not just on the east side of the Euphrates River, but also in Iraq,” he said.
The top diplomat also said Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump will speak over the phone later Thursday.
Commenting on the upcoming Turkey-EU Summit in Bulgaria’s Varna city on March 26, Cavusoglu said: “It is no secret that there are issues in relations with the EU.”
He said visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area and an update of the EU-Turkey Customs Union Agreement were likely to be addressed during the summit.
About Turkey-Germany relations, Cavusoglu said even though currently relations were not perfect, they were positive compared to the situation six months back.
He also urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders to refrain from making statements like “a radical parliamentarian”.