Istanbul, Apr 12 (AFP) Civilian representatives from Kurd, Arab and Turkmen communities have set up a council in the northern Syrian town of Afrin, which was taken by the Turkish army and allied rebels from Kurdish militia last month, state media said today.

Turkey in January launched an operation into Syria to root out the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in the Afrin enclave and drove the group from the city on March 18.

Turkey has branded the YPG a terrorist group linked to outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged an armed rebellion against the state since 1984.

Eleven of the 20-member interim council were elected by the Kurds, eight by Arabs, and one by Turkmens, the Anadolu news agency reported.

Zuheyr Haidar, a Kurdish representative, was elected president of the council, it added. Haidar, quoted by Anadolu, said the local council would defend Syria’s territorial integrity.

Turkey has always argued the YPG disrupted the ethnic balance of northern Syria and insisted its fight is against the militia group and not Kurds themselves.

The future of Afrin after the Turkish campaign has already become a source of tension.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country allowed Turkish air force to enter Syrian air space for the Afrin operation, said this week that Afrin should be “returned to the control of the Syrian government.” In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised Lavrov’s “wrong approach.” “We will give Afrin back to its inhabitants when the time comes but we will determine the time, not Mr Lavrov,” Erdogan retorted.

The comments were the toughest yet by Erdogan targeting Russia after Ankara forged a close alliance with Moscow in recent months to find a political solution to the Syria crisis.

Turkey and Russia are on opposite sides in Syria, with Moscow remaining the chief ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Ankara backing rebels seeking his ouster.

However they have put differences aside to work closely on ending the conflict, in what analysts say is partly a bid to outflank the United States at a time of tension with the West. (AFP) CPS 04122221

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.