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More Kurdish Prisoners Released in Syria, says Kurdish Official - 2004-03-21

A Kurdish official says more Kurdish prisoners have been released in Syria after a week of clashes between Kurds and Syrian security forces left dozens dead. Kurds in Syria have declared a national day of mourning on what is traditionally a festive celebration of the Kurdish New Year.

According to a leader of Syria's Kurdish left party, Keyribin Murad, 1,200 Kurdish men who were detained by Syrian police last week have been released.

But he says he believes many more are still being held and that Kurds in Syria remain fearful of further persecution by Syrian security forces.

He said people are staying at home instead of going outside to celebrate the Kurdish New Year, or Nowruz.

Some observers in Syria have described the atmosphere as tense, although the fighting has ceased. The unrest began March 12 after a violent dispute erupted between Kurdish and Arab fans at a soccer match.

A Kurdish website has posted amateur video footage allegedly showing Syrian police driving in trucks and firing on a crowd of unarmed Kurdish demonstrators during last week's bloody clashes.

The Syrian government views Kurdish identity as a threat to national solidarity.

A prominent Syrian Muslim cleric called for unity during Friday prayers, saying the Kurds should not be viewed as troublemakers. But he also reaffirmed that no one should distinguish between Kurds and Arabs in Syria.

Kurds in Iran began marking the New Year on Saturday, hosting family gatherings and lighting bonfires.