UPDATE 2 – Turkish delegation due in Russia to talk Idlib, Syria

ADDS DETAILS; REMARKS BY ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER

By Talha Ozturk

BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) – A Turkish delegation will soon visit Russia to discuss the situation in Idlib, a section of northwestern Syria where a cease-fire is under siege, Turkey’s top diplomat said Wednesday.

Following Wednesday’s telephone conversation between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, a Turkish delegation “will visit Moscow. [Earlier,] a Russian delegation visited Ankara twice and held meetings" on Idlib, said Mevlut Cavusoglu in Albania.

"We continue to work with Russia to ensure that the cease-fire is permanent. But even if there is no result from this process, our determination is obvious. We will do what is needed," said Cavusoglu, who spoke alongside his Albanian counterpart, Gent Cakaj, in the capital of Tirana.

Attacks by the Assad regime in Idlib in the last two weeks martyred a dozen Turkish military personnel. Turkey responded in force, killing 200 Assad regime troops, and Ankara vowed that no attack will be left unanswered.

"The UN Humanitarian Coordination Office announced that 400 civilians have died since Dec. 1, and 700,000 people fled their homes in the past two months," said Cavusoglu, as he stressed the impact attacks by Assad and Russia have had on residents in Idlib.

Half of the civilians are children, struggling to survive under difficult conditions in the middle of winter, he said.

A Sochi agreement between Turkey and Russia on Idlib is still in effect, he added, despite a number of flaws.

Turkish troops in Idlib are there as part of an anti-terror and peace mission.

Idlib has been a stronghold of the opposition and anti-government armed groups since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

But more than 1,800 civilians have been killed in attacks by the regime and Russian forces since, flouting a 2018 cease-fire and a new one that began Jan. 12.

– No safe haven in Albania for FETO terrorists

Asked about members in Albania of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the 2016 defeated coup in Turkey, Cavusoglu said there are hundreds seeking asylum.

"We do not want Albania to be a safe haven for FETO members,” he said. "We see people who took a part in a coup attempt in Turkey trying to seek asylum in Albania and other countries. Their presence is a risk, especially for Albania's future, security and stability."

Cavusoglu praised steps Albania has taken against FETO but said the nation must take more in the future.

FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen is accused of orchestrating the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.

Turkey also accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.

Albanian Foreign Minister Gent Caka said Turkey is one of the most valuable allies of NATO.

"Permanent relations between the two countries have deep roots not only in historical ties, but in bilateral interaction, constructive cooperation in international institutions, and strategic partnership in NATO. The upcoming Decision between the leaders of the two countries will further strengthen the content of strategic cooperation. and it will expand the size of the relations between Albania and Turkey,” he said.

"Turkey continues to be one of the main contributors of the Kosovo Peace Force (KFOR). Turkey has been supporting Kosovo's security and stability in the region for more than 20 years. We also know Turkey's security concerns in Syria's northern border and Turkey's great contribution and hosting millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey's territory," said Cakaj.

Following the meeting, Cavusoglu and Cakaj signed new deals, including am "Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Driving Licences," "Memorandum of Understanding on Diplomat Exchange" and "Joint statement on counter-terrorism consultations under the chairmanship of the foreign ministries."

Cavusoglu met separately with President Ilir Meta and Parliament Speaker Gramoz Ruci as well as with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama at a working dinner.

Earlier, Cavusoglu attended the opening ceremony of the Balkan Research Center where he said the institution will do in-depth work on Balkan history, literature, culture and politics.