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Minister: Turkey, Russia Negotiating Return of 18 Captured Syrian Soldiers

FILE - Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar speaks during an interview in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 23, 2019.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Thursday said his country is negotiating with Russia to return 18 people believed to be Syrian government troops.

Akar said the soldiers were captured near the northern Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, the epicenter of Turkey’s October military offensive in northeastern Syria.

Turkey has since ended its invasion of Syria through two cease-fires brokered by the U.S. and Russia.

The pacts call on Kurdish fighters to pull 30 kilometers away from the Turkish border, where Syrian government forces would assume positions.

The intent is to establish a “safe zone” where Turkey plans to repatriate some of the more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees Turkey is now hosting.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, meanwhile, touted the negotiations Thursday that produced the cease-fire agreements.

He said he hoped an initial meeting Wednesday of the U.N. Constitutional Committee at a conference in Istanbul would “be the first step toward a political solution that will end this tragic chapter in the lives of the Syrian people.”

Turkey considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria a terrorist group associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an insurgent group that has been banned from the country.

Turkish and Russian patrols are expected to begin Friday in areas near the Syrian border, after Russia said Tuesday that Syrian Kurdish fighters had withdrawn in compliance with a deal between the two countries.