ANKARA, (Reuters) – Turkey cannot stand by and watch if Syria’s crackdown on a popular uprising puts security in the region at risk, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday.
While Ankara has no desire to interfere in Syria’s internal affairs, it has a duty to tell Damascus “Enough!” if it puts Turkey’s security at risk by fighting its own people and forcing people to flee the country, he said.
Turkey, which has the second-largest army in NATO, said last month it did not want any military intervention in Syria but that it was ready for “any scenario” including setting up a buffer zone inside Syria.
Turkey, which has become increasingly critical of its one-time ally, fears an all-out civil war based on sectarian lines in Syria could spill across its borders and spark tensions among Turkey’s own people.
“Turkey has no desire to interfere in anyone’s internal affairs but if a risk to regional security arises then we do not have the luxury of standing by and looking on,” Davutoglu told reporters in the Turkish capital, referring to Syria.
“If a government that is fighting its own people and creating refugees, is putting not only their own security at risk but also that of Turkey, then we have a responsibility and the authority to say to them: ‘Enough!'” he said.
Muslim Turkey was once one of Syria’s closest regional allies, and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had built a strong rapport with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But as the violence grew worse and Assad ignored Ankara’s advice to halt the crackdown on protesters and make urgent reforms, relations broke down and Erdogan has now bluntly told Assad he should quit.
Turkey now gives refuge to Syrian army defectors and the Syrian National Council, an umbrella organisation for exiled Syrian opposition figures.
Last week, Turkey followed the Arab League by announcing a list of economic sanctions on Syria it said would target the government, including freezing state assets and imposing a travel ban on officials and suspending financial transactions.