Kurdish camp is a seedbed of Stalinism

Refugees from Turkish repression are a thorn in the side of fellow Kurds in Iraq
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The Independent Online

Atrush, Iraqi Kurdistan

Peering over the parapet of the stone-built fort he commands, Hassan Shilli surveyed the last tent city of Iraqi Kurdistan spreading over the valley floor below. It looked innocently like the camps that in 1991 welcomed home Iraqi Kurds who had fled to Turkey and Iran after the collapse of their revolt after the Gulf war. But United Nations Camp B at Atrush is different. It is for Kurds from Turkey, dominated by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), whose hard-line leader's agenda is showing up in brutal relief.

"Take these," said Mr Shilli, a leader of Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas, passing over Iraqi army range-finding binoculars. "Most of them have weapons.

"I've posted pickets, but they come in and out at night, attacking my men. I reckon a third of them are guerrillas. They are not really refugees."

No firearms were visible by day, but the camp looked well organised. Shepherds herded flocks: some tents had cars outside; inhabitants clustered at a UN post, where aid workers say the situation is good enough for there to be complaints about having to eat meat every day.

The Turkish Kurds suddenly arrived in northern Iraq in December 1994 and January 1995. The bloody conflict between the Turkish forces and the PKK had been in progress for 11 years, but they were the first civilians to flee Turkey's military repression of its 12 million Kurds by crossing into Iraq.

With 25 million Kurds suffering harassment in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran, the 15,000 new arrivals were welcomed as fellow victims. But in August, the Iraqi Kurds found themselves the target of an offensive by the PKK, which for years has attacked Turkey from bases in the inaccessible mountains along the Iraqi border.

Interviewed on the London-based satellite service MED-TV, which the PKK seems to control, the party's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, admitted responsibility. Speaking by telephone from his Syrian-controlled base, he called Iraqi Kurds stooges of Turkey and demanded a say in the government of northern Iraq.

It became clear that the Turkish Kurd civilians in the first camp, Camp A, high in the mountains, were being used as a base. So the UN started to move them down to Camp B in the valley. But the problem may not end there, since tight control is maintained by a committee dominated by the PKK and its Stalinist national liberation philosophy.

"It is difficult to identify who is political and who is not. Women and children are politicised. Everyone in the region has an AK [rifle], and so do they in the camp," sighed Pierre Vinet, the UN refugee supervisor.

Mr Vinet even considered it a victory when his staff were able to use the camp tannoy system to talk to the refugees outside the control of the committee. Reporters have been restricted since camp residents took 13 aid workers hostage for two days, perhaps a unique action by refugees.

Kurd families who managed to flee told what camp life was like. "The PKK have their own camp militia, their own administration. They would lecture us. They told us, 'We haven't come here to live. We've come to fight. This camp is the foundation of Kurdistan, our socialist state. You are the seeds and we will sow you.' "

The families were hiding in poor houses on the outskirts of the nearby Iraqi Kurdish town of Duhok. Some have since returned to Turkey. Others are waiting for Turkish guarantees that they will not be targeted by Turkish security forces back home.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Iraq, which has borne the brunt of the PKK attacks since August, claims to have broken the back of the PKK's military machine in northern Iraq. But hundreds, if not thousands, of PKK guerrillas have clung on to remote mountain bases. The PKK also maintains a formal presence farther south in areas of Iraq controlled by guerrillas of Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Trying to find a peaceful way out, the KDP leader, Masoud Barzani, has challenged Mr Ocalan to leave his bases in Syria and Lebanon to meet him at the border for peace talks "to prove he is a free man." No response has been reported.

Iraqi Kurds believe they are partly the target of a plot by Syria, which is determined to break US domination of northern Iraq. Some captured guerrillas were Syrian Kurds, granted exemption from military service if they joined the PKK.

Apologists for the PKK say that with every big Kurdish movement choosing a regional sponsor, it is unfair to criticise the PKK because it happens to be with Syria. This does little to endear the Turkish Kurds to their Iraqi Kurdish hosts.

"The sympathetic feeling for them in northern Iraq no longer exists. Their field of action should be Turkish Kurdistan," said Abdulaziz Tayyib, the KDP governor of Duhok. "About 50 of our civilians were killed in the fighting. In a way, it is treason."

n Ankara (Reuter) - Turkey yesterday said it had protested to Bonn over a meeting between a German intelligence official and the PKK leader, saying it was counterproductive to efforts to end PKK attacks in Germany.