Trial tests Munich's policy on Kurds

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The Independent Online
THIRTEEN Kurds went on trial in Munich yesterday, charged with occupying the Turkish consulate in Munich and seizing hostages last June. Thousands of police manned checkpoints in and around the city, to prevent pro-Kurdish protests, which had been officially banned, from taking place.

The trial begins amid growing controversy over German policies on Kurdish rights. The federal German government and the Bavarian regional government have become increasingly embarrassed by their own tangled policies, regarding the Turks and the Kurds.

There has been criticism of arms sales to Turkey, on the one hand, and planned deportations of Kurds from Germany, on the other. Bonn has been forced to retreat, and Bavaria may yet be forced to do so.

The Bavarian government caused widespread unease with its announced decision to deport Kurds who took part in violent protests which brought German motorways to a standstill, in recent weeks.

The Bavarian Interior Minister, Gunther Beckstein, rejected the criticism of the federal Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, as 'superficial chatter'. But Mr Beckstein, apparently thrown on to the defensive, also insisted that Bavaria would not 'rely only on the assurances of the Turkish ambassador', regarding the safety of Kurds sent back to Turkey. Equally, he said it was 'obvious' that Kurds should not be sent back to eastern Turkey, where repression of Kurds is common.

The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, also criticised the Bavarian policy, saying: 'There must be no deportation, if there is even the slightest risk that individual human rights may be infringed.'

Meanwhile, however, Mr Kinkel is himself on the defensive over the issue of German arms supplies to Turkey.

Germany has delivered around pounds 400m of weapons to Turkey in the past three years. Theoretically, this is for defence purposes, within the framework of Nato. There have been persistent allegations, however, that some of the weaponry supplied by Germany is now regularly used against the Kurds.

Until this month, the federal government in Bonn contented itself with official Turkish denials. Faced with photographs and a growing number of eyewitness reports, however, Bonn was forced to announce a temporary stop on the delivery of arms. Mr Kinkel is to make a statement on German-Turkish relations in the German parliament today.

Bonn recently banned the extremist Kurdish Workers' Party, the PKK, as a terrorist organisation - a ban which was publicly welcomed by Turkish officials as support for Turkish policies towards all Kurds, not just the PKK.

Bonn is unhappy with that interpretation. It is equally keen not to be publicly at odds with Ankara. Germans who had previously criticised Turkish policy towards the Kurds and then expressed outrage at the deaths of five Turkish women and girls who died in an extreme right-wing arson attack last year were accused of hypocrisy by Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Given this unfortunate linkage - in effect, 'If you speak up on behalf of the Kurds, you must hate ordinary Turks' - any toughening of Bonn's stance towards Ankara on the Kurdish issue is likely to give easy ammunition to Turkish politicians who want to put pressure on Bonn. Germany is especially keen to avoid any hint of anti-Turkish feeling, given that the trial of those accused of the Solingen murders opens today.

Meanwhile, the issue of Kurdish deportations is further complicated by party political considerations, on both sides. Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and Mr Kinkel are both from the junior coalition party in the government, the Free Democrats, which is keen to raise its own profile. Mr Kohl has explicitly criticised the line taken by Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, saying that she does not represent the views of the government, 'and certainly not mine'. The conservative CSU, meanwhile - the Christian Democrats' sister party in Bavaria - is keen to re-establish its bullish credentials with its supporters.