ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey will take responsibility for Islamic State prisoners in a “safe zone” it aims to form in Syria after its military incursion there, the foreign minister said on Thursday, responding to fears the militants could escape in the chaos.
Turkey pounded Kurdish militia in northeast Syria for a second day on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee, killing dozens and drawing international condemnation.
Those militia have been holding thousands of Islamic State militants in prisons and tens of thousands of their relatives in camps in the region. One senior Kurdish official warned the fighters could break out as the violence intensifies.
“If Daesh (Islamic State) camps or prisons are in the safe zone, we are responsible,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a rare briefing with international media.
Turkey would ask the home countries of foreign Islamic State prisoners in its zone to take them back. If the foreign countries refuse - as many have - “it is our responsibility that they (the Islamic State prisoners) are held accountable and not released,” he said.
Turkey would not be responsible for Islamic State prisoners held in other parts of Syria, he added.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan defended Turkey’s operation in a fiery speech on Thursday, dismissing global criticism and threatening to send more than 3 million Syrian refugees into Europe.
He also reiterated a plan to settle millions of Syrian refugees in the “safe zone” in northeastern Syria, saying Turkey aimed to realise this with international funding.
The EU has said it will not provide any financial aid to Turkey for the plans. But Cavusoglu said that if the bloc refuses to provide assistance, refugees will “be their problem too”.
“This is not blackmail or anything,” Cavusoglu said. “This is the common challenge that our societies have been facing.”
Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Andrew Heavens