UK rights group demands Turkish poll on Kurds

THE GHOST of William Gladstone has been raised by a British human rights group in a report on Turkish 'atrocities' which concludes that the only solution for Turkey's escalating Kurdish conflict is a referendum on ethnic Kurdish political rights.

'This means, of course, that the 'inviolable integrity of the Turkish state' within the borders achieved by Ataturk, would have to be put on the line,' said the report by Lord Avebury, chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, and Michael Feeney, an adviser to Cardinal Hume.

'We are convinced that the overwhelming majority of the Kurdish citizens of Turkey want the power to determine their political status for themselves,' the two men said.

They prefaced their report with a quotation by Gladstone telling the Turks to clear out of a Bulgarian province 'they have desolated and profaned'.

Any kind of ethnic autonomy for its 12 million Kurds is anathema to Turkey's unitary state, despite eight years of guerrilla war in which more than 4,500 people have died. And, as in the late 19th century, no Western power particularly wants to see a break-up of Turkish-established borders in the Near East.

Lord Avebury and Mr Feeney based their report on two visits to Kurdish-populated south-east Turkey this year, the latest to the town of Sirnak shortly after it was devastated by a 41-hour gun battle.

The report published interviews that suggested that most of the firing was army shelling of civilian areas with mortars and German tanks, that soldiers had looted and burned property and that detainees had been tortured. The rapporteurs said they found no substance to Turkish allegations that some battles had been with rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party.

Taking into account official statements, and evidence that the Turkish army had bulldozed, shelled or harassed several other neighbouring villages, the report alleged there was a Turkish policy to flush non-combatants out of the region. They also noted the murders of at least seven journalists, mostly radical Kurds, reporting from the region.

'We now realise that nothing we say will have the slightest effect on the minds of the Turkish government, and only the strongest international pressure could stand any chance of persuading them to change course,' Lord Avebury and Mr Feeney said.

They said the EC should send an investigative mission to Turkey, 'condemn the atrocities against the Kurdish people' and demand that Turkey fulfil its obligations under the Helsinki Accords.