Amnesty accuses U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish group of demolishing homes

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Amnesty International on Tuesday accused a Syrian Kurdish militia supported by the United States of committing war crimes by driving out thousands of non-Kurdish civilians and demolishing their homes.

The London-based rights watchdog documented cases in more than a dozen villages in Kurdish-controlled areas where residents were forced to flee or had their homes destroyed by the YPG, or People's Protection Units, who have seized swathes of northern Syria from Islamic State militants this year.

Amnesty's senior crisis adviser Lama Fakih said the autonomous Kurdish administration was "flouting international humanitarian law, in attacks that amount to war crimes".

YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said: "Very simply, this is a false allegation."

But Amnesty quoted Ciwan Ibrahim, the head of the Kurdish internal security force known as the Asayish, as admitting there had been forced displacements, but saying they were "isolated incidents" and that civilians had been moved for their own safety.

In a 38-page report, Amnesty said the forced displacement of mostly non-Kurds after the YPG had captured villages was often in retaliation for "residents' perceived sympathies with, or ties to, members of IS or other armed groups".

It said it had interviewed 37 people who said they had experienced Kurdish abuses in Hasaka and Raqqa provinces.

"They (YPG) pulled us out of our homes and began burning them ... Then they brought the bulldozers and they began demolishing the homes," one was quoted as saying.

Amnesty said militiamen had threatened civilians with coalition air strikes if they did not abandon their homes.

The YPG has proved the most effective partner on the ground for a U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State. The Asayish says it has received training from Western states.

The YPG has previously denied Turkish accusations of deliberately driving out Arab and Turkmen civilians from areas under its control, especially the town of Tel Abyad.

(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Kevin Liffey)