France outlaws Kurdish groups: Crackdown on anti-Turkish militants follows German sweep against PKK

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The Independent Online
THE French government has followed the German lead in seeking to curb warfare between Turks and Kurds on the streets of Europe by banning two Kurdish groups it said were front organisations for the Kurdish People's Party, the PKK.

The PKK, whose leadership is based in Syria, is leading the Kurdish rebellion against the Turkish army. Yesterday Turkey said its air force had raided nine targets in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

The French government spokesman, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that the cabinet had ordered the Kurdistan Committee and the Federation of Kurdistan Cultural Associations and Patriotic Workers to be dissolved, as they had been implicated in criminal acts.

On 18 November, more than a hundred Kurdish militants were arrested in a crackdown by French police. Twenty-four were charged with terrorist-linked offences and 21, including the alleged PKK leaders in France, Gultekin Kavak, 27, and Sercan Aydin, 29, were remanded in custody. The Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, warned that 'a certain number of political organisations and associations are taking advantage of France's hospitality and using the freedom they have on our soil to turn our country into a rear base for terrorism'. About 60,000 Kurds and 400,000 Turks live in France.

On Friday, the German government announced it had banned the PKK for using violence to pursue its aims. In a series of dawn raids, German police seized documents and later froze bank accounts. They closed Kurdish premises across the country, including cultural centres which the Interior Ministry says were used by Kurdish activists.

The Kurdish press agency Kurd-Ha, based in Cologne and linked to Kurdish groups in Turkey, was also closed.

The German authorities blamed the PKK for being behind co-ordinated attacks on the offices of Turkish consulates, banks, airlines and travel agencies. Targets in Britain, Austria, France, Denmark and Switzerland were hit on 4 November in a campaign which bore a striking resemblance to a wave of attacks across Western Europe in June.

Yesterday Kurdish men, women and children seized cultural centres across western Germany in defiance of the government ban and many threatened to set themselves alight if police tried to evict them. A Kurdish spokesman warned that a violent backlash may be brewing in response to Germany's ban on Kurdish organisations.

Although the Kurdish people have widespread support in Europe for their national aspirations to a homeland, whether they be in Iraq, Turkey, Syria or Iran, Western governments have become less willing to tolerate the expansion of the conflict to their own cities.

The British government has not so far taken any specific measure against the PKK. But police have said that the PKK has operated extortion rackets against Turkish businesses in north London.

In the cockpit of the conflict, in the mountains of south-east Turkey, this year has been the bloodiest in the nine-year rebellion by Kurdish nationalists. More than 10,000 people have been killed and the Turkish army has been pouring reinforcements into the region, though it has failed to extinguish the insurgency.

In Ankara, the Prime Minister's office said that Monday's air raid had demolished PKK camps and rallying points spread over 400 sq km (150 sq miles). This was disputed by an Iraqi Kurdish spokesman who said that the Turkish planes had bombed civilian settlements. It is a measure of the complexity of the issue that the spokesman belonged to the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) which last year had collaborated with Turkey in a drive against the PKK. Yesterday, the KDP spokesman accused Turkey of 'indiscriminate air raids and shelling of innocent Kurdish civilians in the border region'.

'There are serious doubts that all these attacks are carried out by mistake by Turkey. There is no PKK presence or bases in the attacked area,' the spokesman said in a statement. 'We condemn these raids and call upon the Turkish government to compensate the victims of the last air attack and end its cross-border attack on Kurdish civilians.'

Iraqi Kurds, who control a large slice of northern Iraq, depend on the co-operation of Turkey - which is host to Western planes that protect them from Iraq's armed forces by enforcing a no-fly zone

over the skies of northern Iraq.

In recent months Turkish warplanes have made frequent strikes on PKK hideouts in eastern and south-eastern Turkey. The PKK chief, Abdullah Ocalan, has vowed to step up attacks on military and economic targets next year and has threatened to disrupt nationwide local elections scheduled for 27 March.

(Photograph omitted)