Turkey fears that allied relief effort for Kurdish refugees presages Kurdish state

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

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey -- As coalition troops expand th security zone for refugee assistance, concern appears to be growing in the Turkish government that the protected areas may lead to the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

"Have we been tricked after all?" asked a front-page headline in Milliyet, a daily close to the government. The newspapers said the number of allied troops in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq -- 8,000 -- was so high that their mission could not be only humanitarian aid.

The border crossing at Habur was closed briefly Friday, interrupting the enormous relief operation and transport of troops to expand the security zone in Iraq, U.S. Army Col. Robert Flocke, spokesman for the combined military effort, said. The zone has been doubled from its original size to cover an area 80 miles east and 40 miles south of Habur.

The nervousness surfacing publicly over the expansion lies at the core of the Turkey's governmental and military reluctance to accept hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees from Iraq, who are seen as a source of instability for Turkey's grip on its own troubled Kurdish region.

Last week, President Torgut Ozal told journalists that while he would be willing to support an autonomous Kurdish region under Baghdad's authority, he would oppose an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq. He added that Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom he met last week, was in complete agreement with the Turkish position.

Certain Turkish newspapers, which are considered a reliable barometer of the government's preoccupation, have bridled at the sudden, mushrooming presence of foreign troops whizzing over Turkish roads to the Iraqi border as an assault on Turkish sovereignty.

An unnamed senior government official, speaking to Milliyet, went so far as to say that Ankara should meet with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to stop the creation of a Kurdish state that would be in neither country's interest.

Gunaydin, an Istanbul daily, accused the Americans of smuggling guns along with relief supplies to the mostly Kurdish refugees and wondered darkly whether Turkey's consent to the refugee operation was being used to lay the foundation for a Kurdish state.

"There appears to be fear that, whatever Ozal says, Zakho may have been selected as a potential capital for a new Kurdish state, and awareness that capital cities are never so close to a border has brought up the question of whether the so-called 'ultimate plan' intends also to break off a part of Turkey," wrote Ismet G. Imset in the English language Turkish Daily News Friday.

From the beginning of the Persian Gulf war, Ankara has said it would not accept an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq, which it fears would eventually grow to include Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeastern region.

Kurdish leaders from northern Iraq, who have visited Turkey twice since the war began, have appealed only for autonomy backed by guarantees, not independence.

American military officials have consistently denied any military goal in northern Iraq, insisting instead on it being a purely humanitarian effort. "We're here to save lives, not lose men," Colonel Flocke said early in the relief effort.

But privately, some midlevel officers have said that the American efforts seemed also geared to undermine Saddam Hussein's regime by humiliating his military.

These officers have said that they could not see the U.S. forces leaving with Mr. Hussein still in power. "Their military can't like our spreading out very much," said one Army officer.

More subtly, officers and soldiers have said their feelings for the Kurds of northern Iraq and Turkey have grown warmer in the weeks they have been in the region. At the same time, they said they have been repulsed by the Turkish soldiers'harsh treatment of the refugees and by their early attempts to pirate American-delivered relief supplies.

Among the Turks, the suspicion over allied goals is aggravating the already tense balance between the Turkish forces and the foreign military presence.

It comes after foreign reports criticizing Turkey's handling of the Kurdish refugees already had piqued nerves here, as did several early confrontations with the American military as it freed the delivery of relief supplies from Turkish interference.

Late last week, Turkey ordered the immediate expulsion of 30 British Marines it accused of manhandling the mayor of Semdinli when he entered the Yesilova refugee camp unannounced. The Turkish foreign ministry said one marine had pointed a gun at the mayor. The British defense ministry denied the charges.

Prime Minister Yeldirim Akbulut has called for the expulsion of all British troops from Turkey.

Turkish authorities detained and then expelled Robert Fisk, a correspondent for the Independent of London, last week after he wrote articles alleging that Turkish soldiers had gone on a rampage in the remote Yesilova camp, stealing relief supplies and water.

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