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Syria Arrests Over 1,000 Kurds, says Rights Group - 2004-04-13

A human rights group in Syria says more than 1,000 Kurds have been arrested by Syrian authorities in recent weeks.

According to a statement released by the Committees for the Defense of Human Rights in Syria, the Syrian government is engaging in "arbitrary daily arrests" against Kurdish men and women throughout northeast Syria.

The new wave of arrests follows a week of deadly clashes that erupted last month after a riot broke out between Arab and Kurdish fans at a soccer match in Qameshli. Syrian agents fired on a crowd of unarmed Kurdish demonstrators, and Kurds set fire to government buildings. Syrian authorities said 25 people were killed, but Kurdish estimates were much higher.

Haithem el-Maleh, a spokesman for the state-sponsored Syrian Human Rights Association, says two Kurds who were among the hundreds detained following the violence in March died last week after being tortured in Syrian prisons.

He says Kurds are being arrested on a range of charges, including setting fire to state buildings and trying to annex parts of Syrian territory to a Kurdish state.

Mr. El-Maleh says some Kurds believe they should establish the state of Kurdistan on parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, which the Syrian government views as a criminal offense.

But Ibrahim al-Yousif, a Kurdish writer in Syria, says the arrests of Kurds, including women and children, are random.

He says being Kurdish in Syria is the same as being a convict, and adds this is the worst situation he has seen in his 40 years of living in Syria.

International human rights groups have called on the Syrian government to stop using excessive force and end the campaign of mass arrests. U.S officials have also expressed concern over Syria's treatment of its Kurdish population..

About 1.5 million Kurds live in Syria, but about 200,000 are denied Syrian citizenship.

Meanwhile, the Syrian minister of information called for Arab governments to resist U.S. calls for democracy and reform in the Middle East. Speaking at a conference on reform in Damascus, the minister urged other Arab leaders to "effectively defend their just causes."