Kurd hostage deal falls through

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The Independent Online
MEDIATORS who tried to meet Kurdish guerrillas and accept the release of six kidnapped foreign tourists abandoned the mountainous Turkish south-east yesterday, throwing into doubt the future of such attempts to win freedom for the hostages.

Up to three late-night rendez- vous had been missed by either the guerrillas or the mediating group, which was led by Ismet Imset, an editor of the Ankara Turkish Daily News, and including the president of the French relief agency Medecins du Monde, Bernard Granjon.

The mediation effort had been supported by the families of the hostages as well as diplomats working all hours in the southeast and in Ankara. 'The Turkish police special forces tracked them everywhere. Sometimes they couldn't even get out of town. It is the state itself that is preventing their release,' said Gultan Kisanak, an editor of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem, one of whose reporters was with the group.

But it is the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that is holding the innocent hostages. They are the British oil engineer David Rowbottom and his Australian cousin and girlfriend, nurse Tania Miller, both 28 and held since 4 July, and four middle- aged Frenchmen, held separately after being seized at a Kurdish roadblock on 24 July.

Kurdish sources said the guerrilla group planned to release the six. But the guerrillas may still want more media attention and international recognition of their struggle for a fully autonomous Kurdish state. They wish to continue to damage the Turkish economy with their demands that Western tourists give up the idea of holidays in Turkey.

The guerrillas may be powerful among Turkey's 12 million Kurds, but are seen as untouchable terrorists by most Western governments. Even the leadership of the quite separate Kurdish movement in northern Iraq has condemned their new tactic of hostage-taking.

'We want the the states themselves to be the mediators. We will not free these tourists until their safety has been assured. France, England, Germany and other states should recognise our legitimate struggle. Seizing tourists is a way for this,' a Turkish Kurdish guerrilla leader, Mahir, told Ozgur Gundem. Mahir was leader of the group holding the French tourists.

The Frenchmen said none of the guerrillas spoke French, so they could communicate only in sign language. Kurdish lessons seemed to be daily and leaders lectured them on the Kurdish cause. The diet of dry bread, cheesy butter and black tea made them sick. Long forced marches at all hours over peaks between 9,000 and 12,000ft made it difficult to walk, especially for Robert Audoin, 51, who was to have a foot operation this month.

'They looked unhappy and unwell,' wrote the Ozgur Gundem reporter alongside a grim photograph of the four. He quoted the Frenchmen as adding: 'Our medicine has all run out. We cannot get used to the food. Our health situation is worsening.'

But suffering is not unusual in the world of the Kurds. The Frenchmen's story was sandwiched between a typical crop of news on the front page of yesterday's Ozgur Gundem: a picture of one of its reporters in the south- east, mysteriously kidnapped and killed; a picture of the corpse of a victim of anti-Kurdish death squads; news of three deaths of people shot by soldiers and an apparently Kurdish man allegedly killed under torture.