Letter: The Kurds: victims or terrorists?

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The Independent Online
Sir: The letter (22 January) about the Atroush refugee camp gives a shockingly one-sided and distorted account. This is not a case of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees closing down a sanctuary for genuine refugees, but one of an international humanitarian operation being sabotaged by militant terrorists.

The camp was originally set up by the UNHCR in co-operation with the Kurdish Democratic Party of northern Iraq. Those staying there fell into two distinct categories.

One group was of villagers from south-eastern Turkey who said that they had been forced by the PKK to leave their homes. They wanted to go back as soon as conditions permitted. A number of these have already done so and others emphasised to the UNHCR and visitors to Atroush that this is what they wanted.

A second, smaller group were armed members of the PKK who systematically tried to convert Atroush from a refugee camp into an operational base. In particular they seized food and relief supplies from the UNHCR and distributed them to their followers. They also took hostages from the young men of the families of the refugees, in order to deter them from asking to return to Turkey.

This second group came into regular conflict with the UNHCR personnel who initially tried to solve the problem by setting up a new camp, called Atroush-B, which would contain only genuine displaced persons. This attempt failed. UNHCR staff were prevented from having contact with ordinary residents in the camp. Their cars were vandalised and some of them were beaten up by PKK members.

Due to the grave security situation, the UNHCR eventually decided that it must withdraw its few remaining personnel in the area and announced at the same time that the humanitarian and non-political nature of the camp had been gravely eroded and that it could no longer be granted protection. The final monthly delivery of food and kerosene was made to Atroush on 14 and 15 December 1996.

With the majority of the bona fide residents of the camp wishing to return to their homes in Turkey, the UNHCR set up transit sites to serve as bus- stops at Muqible and Balqe and - since it is physically not possible to return them home all at once - new transit facilities at Hac, a former pilgrimage station near Silopi, and Yuksekova, have also been made available.

Turkey has guaranteed that the returnees will be well received and given accommodation as necessary on their way home.



Turkish Embassy

London SW1