Armed groups in the area of northern Syria controlled by Turkey may have committed war crimes and other violations of international law, the UN rights chief said Friday.
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the situation in those areas of Syria was grim, with violence and criminality rife.
In a statement, Bachelet's UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said it had noted an "alarming pattern in recent months of grave violations", having documented increased killings, kidnappings, unlawful transfers of people, seizures of land and properties and forcible evictions.
The victims include people perceived to be allied with opposing parties or as being critical of the actions of the Turkish-affiliated armed groups, Bachelet's office said.
Those affiliated groups have also seized and looted houses, land and property without any apparent military necessity, said OHCHR.
Furthermore, increased infighting among the various Turkish-affiliated armed groups over power-sharing was causing civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
The Turkish foreign ministry later Friday took umbrage at Bachelet's statement and "strongly condemned the failure to mention the Syrian regime and the PKK/YPG terrorist organization, which are the main cause of the violations in the report".
Ankara considers the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG group a terrorist organization linked to outlawed PKK Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
"We totally reject the unfounded allegations against Syrian opposition groups" and the "baseless claims against our country in connection with these groups," it said.
The ministry in a statement also accused Bachelet of "undue criticism" and said Ankara would notify the UN of its "views and challenges" related to the report.
Turkey controls large stretches of northeastern Syria through various armed groups, and is conducting operations aimed at driving out Kurdish and extremist factions.
In October last year, Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies occupied a 120-kilometre (75-mile) stretch of land inside the Syrian border from Kurdish forces.
Ankara has also deployed forces in several military posts it established in northwestern Idlib as part of a 2018 deal with regime ally Moscow, while Turkey also controls a stretch of territory along its border in neighboring Aleppo province following a series of military offensives since 2016.
Call for investigation
Bachelet's office said it had documented the abduction and disappearance of civilians, including women and children.
It also said that from the start of the year until last Monday, it had verified the deaths of at least 116 civilians as a result of improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war, while a further 463 civilians were injured.
"I urge Turkey to immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into the incidents we have verified, account for the fate of those detained and abducted by the affiliated armed groups and hold accountable those responsible for what may, in some instances, amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes," Bachelet said.
"This is all the more vital given that we have received disturbing reports that some detainees and abductees have allegedly been transferred to Turkey following their detention in Syria by affiliated armed groups."
Meanwhile Bachelet voiced concern that parties to the conflict in Syria were using essential services as a weapon.
"Impeding access to water, sanitation and electricity endangers the lives of large numbers of people, a danger rendered all the more acute amid fighting a global pandemic," she said.