Turkish TV actor faces war crimes charges

A Turkish actor known as "the tough wolf" for his portrayal of a gangster is facing real-life war-crimes charges after admitting that he killed a prisoner of war during the Cypriot intercommunal violence of 1974.

"The commander told me to kill on his orders," Attila Olgac, the star of the popular television series Valley of the Wolves, told a Turkish chat show. "The first kid I shot was a 19-year-old prisoner. His hands were tied behind his back. When I pointed my gun at him, he spat in my face. I shot him in the forehead."

Ali Cakir, the Istanbul prosecutor, opened an investigation yesterday into the case, citing the Third Geneva Convention, related to the treatment of prisoners of war. Should evidence of wrongdoing emerge, the dossier will be sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the prosecutor said. Mr Olgac would be the first Turk to face international justice for war crimes, if indicted.

Although Mr Olgac gave a newspaper interview on the same subject the day after last week's chat show appearance, he later retracted his apparent confession. Amid outrage in Cyprus and Turkey, he said he had been simply testing public reaction to a film script he was writing. If his explanation is true, he got more than he bargained for. Known on screen as the "tough wolf", Turkish nationalist newspapers have rebranded him the "tactless wolf" and accused him of damaging the country's honour.

On Tuesday, Cyprus filed a case against Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights demanding that it clarify the fate of citizens who went missing during Turkish military operations in 1974. "Turkey must co-operate to determine under which conditions people disappeared; this is something Turkey has not done," said Stephanos Stephanou, the Cypriot government spokesman.

The furore around the television star's comments come amid renewed talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriots aimed at reuniting an island which has been divided on ethnic grounds since 1974. Failure to reach an agreement before the end of the year could spell the end for Turkey's European Union accession hopes.

Although analysts doubt that the actor's confession would undermine talks, there are concerns that it could affect one aspect of co-operation between Cypriot Greeks and Turks – an initiative, since August 2006, to exhume and identify Cypriot dead: 1,500 Greek Cypriots and 500 Turkish Cypriots vanished during the conflict. The UN-backed Committee on Lost Persons has exhumed 450 bodies and identified 78 Greeks and 32 Turks.

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