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Father of woman killed fighting in Syria urges Government to bring body home

Anna Campbell was the first British woman to die fighting with Kurdish forces in Syria.

The father of the first British woman to die fighting with Kurdish forces in Syria has called on the Government to bring her body home.

Anna Campbell died in Afrin in March while fighting with the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) and is thought to have been killed by Turkish air strikes.

The 26-year-old is the eighth Briton so far to have died in the country. She decided to fly out to Syria via Lebanon about a year ago where she joined the YPJ, an all-female brigade of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has around 50,000 Kurdish men and women fighting against IS in the north of the country.

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Dirk and Rose Campbell, father and sister of Anna Campbell at a vigil in Lewes (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Her father Dirk Campbell, 67, is campaigning alongside an Icelandic woman living in the UK, Eva Hauksd?ttir, whose son Haukur Hilmarsson died fighting in similar circumstances.

The pair have written an open letter to both the British and Icelandic Governments in which they claim dead bodies are still “lying around, decomposing in open fields and farmlands” in Syria amid the ongoing conflict.

They claim Turkish authorities have flouted international humanitarian law by not doing their duty in searching for the dead and preventing their bodies being “bespoiled” and that charities have been unable to get to the site to assist.

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Anna Campbell, who died fighting with a Kurdish armed unit in Syria (Family handout/PA)

The letter said: “Not being able to bury the deceased makes the families’ grief even more distressful.”

Referring to their children, the parents said: “Their bodies could not be retrieved and are probably still lying on the battlefield exposed to dogs and other animals. Since such a long time has passed, DNA tests will probably be needed to identify their remains.

“We know of parents in many countries facing the same agony.

“The bereaved friends and families of Britain’s Anna Campbell and Iceland’s Haukur Hilmarsson hereby challenge the governments of the UK and Iceland to confront Turkish authorities on their obligations to the dead.

“Ask them why the Red Cross was not given free and secure access to Afrin until May. Ask them when they intend to collect the bodies, and – if a part of the area has been cleared, where the bodies are to be found.

“And if you don’t get immediate and accurate answers, use your influence in Nato, the Council on Europe and the United Nations and pressure the international community to call upon Turkey to honour its commitments under the Geneva Conventions and abide by international humanitarian law.

You, as leaders, failed to protect one of the most persecuted nations on earth Letter to UK and Icelandic governments

“This is the least you can do for your fallen citizens, the people who took responsibility when you, as leaders, failed to protect one of the most persecuted nations on earth.”

A vigil was held Ms Campbell’s home town of Lewes, East Sussex, in the days following her death. Her family remembered her as “fearless and noble”.

In a YPJ video filmed before she left for Afrin, a smiling Ms Campbell told the camera how she was known by her nom de guerre of Helin Qerecox.

She said she was “happy and proud” to join her friends and defend against fascism.

Conflict between Turkey and Kurdish groups has been inflamed since January.

In the week of Ms Campbell’s death Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the country’s military had captured the town centre of Afrin, which was previously controlled by the YPG.

A spokesman for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said: “We are in contact with Anna’s family.

“As we have no consular presence in Syria, our ability to help is extremely limited.

“The UK advises against all travel to Syria. Anybody who travels to Syria against our advice is putting themselves at considerable risk, particularly if they travel to join an armed group. We urge strongly against any participation in this kind of activity.”

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