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Syrian opposition-aligned official denies accusations Turkey 'stole' Afrin's olive oil

Afrin was once one of Syria's leading producers of olive oil [AFP]

Date of publication: 13 February, 2019

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An Afrin trade official has rejected accusations that Turkey 'stole' olive crops from the northern Syrian region and sold their oil as a Turkish product in Europe.

A Syrian opposition-aligned official on Tuesday denied accusations that Turkey had "stolen" olive crops in the Syrian town of Afrin and sold the oil to EU countries as a Turkish product.

Nasir Husso, head of the Turkey-backed Afrin Chamber of Industry and Trade, said Afrin olive oil was sold to Turkey at "world prices", Turkey's state news agency reported.

"We call on the traders world-wide to invest in Afrin and buy its high-quality olive oil," Husso told a panel in Ankara. He said traders in the region famous for olive cultivation had managed to export olive produce this year due to the improved security situation.

Turkey, which helped allied Syrian rebels take control of Afrin in 2018 as part of its Operation "Olive Branch" to oust Syrian Kurdish forces from northern Syria, was accused of confiscating olive crops from local farmers last year.

Turkey views the Kurdish militias which control much of northern Syria to be an offshoot of the PKK, an armed group which has waged a bloody insurgency against Ankara for more than 30 years.

Around 50,000 tons of olive oil from Afrin have allegedly been packaged in Turkey for domestic and international sale, according to an investigation by the Spanish website El Público.

The investigation claimed the olive oil is pressed in Afrin, before being transported to Turkey where it is blended with Turkish oil and labelled as a Turkish product.

Afrin is a region located close to the Syrian border with Turkey

Saleh Ibo, the Kurdish Afrin Canton Agricultural Council Deputy, said in September 2018 Turkey had "confiscated" the olive groves of locals displaced from Afrin during its military operation, the PKK-allied ANF News reported.

"80% of the olives in Afrin are being taken to Turkey with no cost through the gangs and the council they formed", Ibo said, adding that Turkey imposed taxes on the remaining owners of olive trees.

Ibo claimed Turkey could make $80 million by selling the olives.

Turkish Agricultural Minister Bekir Pakdemirli in November 2018 admitted 600 tonnes of olives had entered Turkey from Syria. "We do not want revenues to fall into PKK hands," he said.

Swiss politician Benhard Guhl this month accused Turkey of exporting olive oil produced from Afrin olives to Spain as a Turkish product. Turkey is already the third largest external source of olive oil to the EU.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also accused Ankara of sanctioning the looting of olive oil tanks from factories in Afrin.

Turkish forces and allied rebel groups have been accused of looting and human rights violations in Afrin by rights groups.

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