Leading article: If Turkey is to join the EU it must stop abusing the Kurds

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ONE OF the less persuasive arguments against going to war with Slobodan Milosevic is that Nato has failed to intervene to try to prevent ethnic horrors as bad as those perpetrated by the Serbs against the Kosovar Albanians. The fate of the Kurds is perhaps the most poignant example, and the clinching argument is supposed to be that one of their main oppressors, Turkey, is a member of Nato. It is true that the moral asymmetry is graphic. Turkey is a member of an alliance of democracies fighting a war to defend a small ethnic group from a campaign of terror waged by a more powerful ethnic group that rules their homeland. At the same time, as we report today, the Turkish government is itself stepping up its own offensive against the Kurdish minority within its borders - by pursuing Kurdish guerrillas into their enclave in northern Iraq.

Of course, the Turks' treatment of the Kurds is appalling, and the stench of the Turkish government's hypocrisy stings the nostrils. But just because Nato failed the Kurds does not mean it should fail the Kosovar Albanians.

It is important, too, to recognise the moral complexities of different conflicts and to avoid making simplistic analogies. The comparison - mostly made by supporters of the war - between the Serbian regime and the Nazis, is mistaken. What Milosevic's forces have done to the Kosovar Albanians is indeed terrible, but it is not quite genocide. And what the Turkish government has done to the Kurdish people is bad, but it is not quite as bad as what Milosevic has done in Kosovo.

Nevertheless, our obsession with the war in Yugoslavia should not diminish our sense of outrage at what is happening in Turkey, which is not simply a military ally but a candidate for membership of the European Union. This is a prime example of the case for a single, strong voice for the EU in international affairs, the yet-to-be-filled post for which the names of Chris Patten and Paddy Ashdown have both been mooted. If such a figure were to issue an ultimatum to Turkey it would have more force than murmurs of disapproval from Robin Cook and his fellow EU foreign ministers, not just because it would be the united voice of the Union but because it could be explicitly related to Turkey's application to join it.

Until Mr or Ms Europe is appointed, however, Mr Cook and his colleagues should be as clear and united as they can. They should repeat their insistence that Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdish guerrilla movement the PKK, be given a fair trial. They should repeat their condemnation of human rights abuses inflicted on the Kurdish people. And they should make clear that, while they want Turkey to join the EU, not least to secure a large, democratic and modern bridgehead in the Moslem world, its membership is conditional upon these demands being met.