Muddled Bonn gently chides Turks

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The Independent Online

in Bonn

Germany, Turkey's most important ally in Europe, yesterday tried to give the impression that it is ready to get tough with Ankara. Military supplies to Turkey will be put on hold, said Klaus Kinkel, the Foreign Minister. He was angry, he said, that Turkey wanted to continue its military action against Kurds in northern Iraq.

But Bonn's policy has come to seem increasingly confused as it seeks to portray itself simultaneously as tough critic and loyal friend. The freeze on promised military shipments, to the value of 150m marks (£68m) comes days after the announcement that Germany would also freeze a DM150m subsidy for construction of two frigates for Turkey.

But this double rap on the knuckles has been accompanied by an attempt by Bonn to avoid being forced into tougher criticism of Ankara. There have been claims in recent days that German military equipment, including armoured troop carriers from the former East German army, has been used against the Kurds. This would breach conditions under which the vehicles and other equipment were supplied. The government has emphasised there is no "unambiguous proof" that the vehicles came from the East German army.

In effect, Bonn is ready to have a sharpish exchange of words with Ankara but does not wish to embark on a full-scale dispute. The freezing of military aid is irrelevant in the short term (and the aid can in any case easily be unfrozen). But if Turkey is lying about its use of German weaponry, Bonn would have to come up with a much tougher response.

Germany wants to be seen as Turkey's best friend in Europe (``the advocate in Brussels", in the words of the Sddeutsche Zeitung). But it also wants to be Europe's moral watchdog. That is a difficult act, given Turkey's recent actions.

Die Welt yesterday noted Germany's tendency to ``gallop around the international stage on its high horse of principles". According to Die Welt, "The current grotesque goings-on ... with the truly hypocritical indignation about Turkish behaviour, demonstrate above all the German dilemma: Bonn has no policy.''

One reason for Germany's confusion is what officials describe as the "very complex relationship" with Turkey.

Five Turkish women and children were burnt to death by neo-Nazi skinheads in the towns of Mlln and Solingen in 1992 and 1993.

The names of the two towns became a shorthand for everything that Germany most feared about itself. There were huge candle-lit marches. The President, then Richard von Weizscker, spoke at the ceremony for those who had died in Solingen; Mr Kinkel attended the funeral in Turkey.

To complicate matters further, there has been a spate of anti-Turkish firebombings in Germany in recent days and weeks, which is generally assumed to be mostly the work of Kurdish extremists, including supporters of the now-banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The Turkish ambassador to Germany - perhaps believing that attack is the best form of political defence - yesterday complained that too little was being done to protect Turkish citizens and property in Germany.

Around 2 million Turkish citizens live in Germany; of these, around 400,000 are Kurds.

German politicians have warned repeatedly of the danger that "internal conflicts may be transferred to Germany" or that Germany could become an "additional theatre of war".