Is Turkish camp the Syrian rebels' HQ?

Claims that border facility supposedly for soldiers who deserted is really an illegal military base used by the Free Syrian Army.

Free Syrian Army rebels are shown detaining two Syrian army soldiers. Turkish opposition politicians claim a camp at Apaydin for Syrian military deserters is really the FSA’s headquarters.
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ISTANBUL // Turkey is offering more support for Syrian rebel fighters than the government in Ankara is ready to admit, opposition politicians say.

Turkish legislators visited a special camp for Syrian military deserters in Apaydin in the southern border province of Hatay yesterday. This camp, two kilometres from the Syrian border and closed to the media, is widely believed to be the headquarters of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) that is fighting to topple Bashar Al Assad's regime.

Although Turkey hosts leaders of the main body of the political opposition, the Syrian National Council, the Turkish government insists that it is not giving military support to the rebels fighting Mr Al Assad's security forces.

Turkish opposition leaders have pointed to the Apaydin camp as evidence to the contrary, claiming it houses about 300 Syrian ex-soldiers and policemen, including about 30 former generals, according to Turkish officials.

Riad Al Asaad, the FSA commander, is also believed to be in Apaydin.

"Apaydin is an illegal military base on Turkish territory," Mehmet Ali Ediboglu, an opposition legislator from Hatay, said yesterday. "There are five or six other places in Hatay with weapons and training facilities" of the FSA, he added. "People in Hatay know the naked truth, but the government keeps telling lies."

Mr Ediboglu, a member of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey's biggest opposition group, said he wanted to visit Apaydin with other politicians 10 days ago but was not allowed to enter the camp. He said by the time yesterday's visit by the human-rights committee of Turkey's parliament had been arranged, Apaydin had been cleared of weapons.

"We don't assume that, we know that," he said, adding his party was boycotting the visit.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the CHP leader, also boycotted the visit but said FSA activities in Apaydin violated international law. "People undergoing military training there cross over into Syria and take part in the fighting," Mr Kilicdaroglu said according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency.

Two other opposition parties did visit the camp.

Mr Ediboglu and other opposition members also drew attention to a recent statement posted on the FSA's website that defined Hatay as the rebel army's "main base". The website has been changed and says the FSA's main base is in Damascus. But the rebels provide a Turkish telephone number.

Last week, an unnamed FSA member from Apaydin camp told reporters outside the camp that the rebels had training facilities across the border on Syrian territory and were going into Syria and back to Turkey on a daily basis. "But the Republic of Turkey has asked us not to walk around with weapons during the day", he said.

News reports said that the FSA, not Turkish forces, controlled the camp. But Turkey's state agency for disaster relief, which runs the camps housing about 80,000 Syrian refugees along the border, issued a statement on its website to deny the claims.

Mr Ediboglu said that apart from the FSA, many Islamist fighters from countries such as Afghanistan were using Hatay as a base for entering Syria. "There are armed foreigners walking around here, but the government keeps saying that there is no problem."

A Turkish government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, rejected the accusations. "There are no weapons or training facilities in Apaydin," the official said. Ankara says access to the camp is restricted because of concerns for the safety of the ex-soldiers there and their 2,500 family members that are staying with them.

Speaking after yesterday's visit in Apaydin, Sefer Ustun, the head of the human-rights commission and a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, also denied charges that the camp was being used as a military base. Mr Ustun told Anadolu that 80 per cent of the people in the camp were women and children. "Seen in that light, other things are not possible here anyway," he said.