Turkey floats an offer to aid fleeing Kurds But Ozal insists Western powers must share burden

April 05, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey -- Facing growing international criticism for not accepting Kurdish refugees massed at his country's border with Iraq, Turkish President Turgut Ozal said yesterday that 100,000 Kurds had managed to enter Turkey, and he offered to open the borders if European countries would accept half of the refugees.

Speaking in an interview on Britain's Independent Television News, Mr. Ozal said that the Iraqi army's assault on Kurdish guerrillas and civilians was "a kind of genocide being carried out by Iraq."

Mr. Ozal's estimate of 100,000 Kurds appeared to include 27,000 who remained in Turkey after fleeing the Iraqi destruction of Kurdish villages in 1988 and 73,000 who have entered since the Persian Gulf war began. That is 10 times the number of refugees Turkish government officials had previously confirmed and triple the estimates of relief workers.

Turkey showed no sign, however, of opening its borders to at least half a million Kurdish refugees huddled in the mountains. Instead, it dispatched 400 troops to reinforce the estimated 300,000 Turkish soldiers already in the border region.

Relief workers feared yesterday that the refugees would die without immediate assistance.

Mr. Ozal suggested that Western Europe share the long-term burden the Kurds would represent.

"I ask the European countries, you should take half, and I will get the other half. If they agree, 400,000 people -- you will get half," Mr. Ozal said on British television.

Iran said yesterday that it would accept all the Kurdish refugees who could reach its border and appealed for international help in providing the necessary blankets, food, clothing, tents, medical supplies and other equipment.

France, eager to regain prominence lost during its back-seat role in the gulf war and historically sympathetic to the Kurdish cause, is responding.

France's minister for humanitarian action, Bernard Kouchner, began a two-day visit to Turkey and Iran yesterday. And France has filled two Boeing 707s with 80 tons of food and medical supplies that it hopes to distribute to refugees through Turkey and Iran.

Iran said it would provide trucks to transport the French supplies from Tehran to the border region.

But Ankara, which even in normal times keeps a firm military grip on this area, warned that France could not expect to distribute aid across Turkish borders.

"Every country is welcomed to provide assistance, but Turkey is determined to distribute the aid on the other side of the border," a Turkish government official told the Associated Press.

Fleeing Kurdish guerrillas appeared to understand the Turkish security concerns. They piled their weapons -- Kalashnikov assault rifles, pistols and even knives -- at the border near Uludere, said three French television journalists who crossed the border Tuesday.

"It was their admission ticket, in a sense," said Jean Francois Monnet, a cameraman for French Television's TF-1.

Turkish border guards allowed the Kurds onto Turkish territory but held them near the border, the French journalists said. Worn out from hunger and cold, women, old people and children trudged slowly over the mountain, each step an effort, they said.

French soundman Yannick Fleur Iault said he saw thousands upon thousands of Kurds walking almost silently. Except for the sound of children crying, there was no screaming or hysteria as the Kurds left the lands they had for a brief moment controlled.

Along the way, the journalists said they saw bundles, blankets and clothing abandoned by the roadside, apparently too heavy to carry.

Children stumbled in the mud, and near the road one family left a cradle covered with a black veil, he said.

"It was an exodus, almost biblical," said Mr. Monnet. "There was something awful and beautiful about it."

In London, Sabah Sabir, a spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said late last night that his group had received a report that "50 people died in one area because of the cold. The situation is disastrous."

Stephen Crouch, an adviser to the London-based International Refugee Trust, said his group estimated that 1,000 to 3,000 people "would die tonight."

"We don't see any practical steps being taken to alleviate this disaster," he said.

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