Turkey warns EU over Kurds' rights

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The Independent Online
TURKEY ISSUED a warning to European governments to stay out of its dealings with its Kurdish minority yesterday.

It was the first sign of Turkish fears that the capture last week of Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel leader, may focus international attention on Turkey's Kurds. Greece is seeking to bring Mr Ocalan's arrest before a meeting of European Union foreign ministers today.

"Turks and Kurds of Turkey are of one nation," said the Turkish Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, yesterday, insisting Turkey would never accept autonomy for its Kurds.

"In contrast to the racist heritage and tendencies of certain European nations, we have no concept of racial differentiation, and there has been no instance, of racial conflict or discrimination in Turkish history."

It is hard to reconcile Mr Ecevit's words with the facts. Mr Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has carried out a 14-year campaign of violence and terror to win Kurdish autonomy in south-east Turkey. Kurds are denied minority rights under Turkish law. Kurdish language broadcasting is illegal, and the language cannot be taught in schools.

"I hope no European government will attempt to bargain at Turkey's expense with the PKK terrorists who have savagely occupied and rampaged public buildings and consulates in recent days," Mr Ecevit said yesterday. "Any compromise with terrorists would inevitably encourage them to [commit] further atrocities and bring humiliation to the governments concerned."

Violent Kurdish protests erupted around the world when Turkish special forces snatched Mr Ocalan from Kenya last week. Protesters denied that their activities had been co-ordinated by the PKK.

Mr Ecevit's remarks are likely to put a further strain on relations with the EU. Turkey has long aspired to join the union but member states have cited human rights abuses in the struggle with the PKK as an obstacle to membership.

The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, yesterday called on the EU to examine Greece's involvement in sheltering Mr Ocalan.

The Kurdish leader was staying at the Greek embassy in Nairobi before he was captured, and Ankara accuses Greece and Greek-backed Cyprus of providing training facilities and assistance to the PKK.

Turkish officials have relished Greece's humiliation in the capture of Mr Ocalan. Three Greek ministers have resigned. "Those circles and governments who provoked or condoned PKK atrocities must have realised during recent days that they were playing with fire," Mr Ecevit said.

Mr Ocalan remains under interrogation on a prison island in the Sea of Marmara. There were unconfirmed reports that he would make a video appeal for PKK guerrillas to surrender.

Turkey has reacted angrily to calls from several European governments to ensure Mr Ocalan gets a fair trial. Mr Ecevit yesterday called on foreign governments not to "put pressure" on Turkish courts. "We would consider such attempts as an unacceptable affront to Turkish justice," he said.

The Turkish Prime Minister said he believed that the problems of Turkey's Kurds could be solved by social and economic help for the underdeveloped Kurdish regions. He reiterated his call to PKK guerrillas to surrender.

A repentance law before parliament would guarantee shorter sentences for those who gave themselves up, he said. But the PKK has vowed to fight on, and has warned that Turkey will "face the consequences" if Mr Ocalan is harmed.