Turkish army rules out PKK role in peace process

Carly Nyst
25 August 2009

The Turkish military has ruled out any role for the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in a planned reform process designed to expand the rights of Turkey's Kurdish minority. A statement on the official armed forces website on Tuesday denied that the army would "be involved in any activities which open the way to establishing relations" with the PKK during the process, which was sanctioned by the National Security Council five days ago. Despite calls from Turkey's main Kurdish party for the government to negotiate a ceasefire with the PKK, General Ilker Basbug, head of the Turkish military, maintained that the army would not involve itself in any discussions that would "endanger the existence of the state or open the way for the polarisation and division of the country." He indicated that, although the armed forces support a move by the Turkish government to take "the necessary measures in the economic, socio-cultural and international fields," they will continue to treat the PKK as an enemy group.

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The toD verdict: The decision by the NSC to launch a reform process with regards to it treatment of the Kurdish question represents a clear departure from the largely combative approach employed over the past 25 years. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has secured considerable support for the initiative amongst the military, several political parties, and much of the media, and the recent approval of the NSC - comprised of the president, top generals and key government ministers - is encouraging. While the details of the process are largely unknown at this point, it is expected that it will be designed to secure more rights for the Kurdish people of Turkey, allow Kurdish teaching in universities, restoring Kurdish village names and allowing Islamic sermons in Kurdish, as well as securing an economic stimulus package for the region.

Although between 50 and 80 percent of Turkish people support a peaceable solution to the Kurdish problem, consensus on the issue will not easily be reached. The main opposition parties have condemned the proposal, criticising the prime minister of "fulfilling, step by step, the demands of ethnic separatists." Indeed, pollster Tarhan Erdem predicts that "the Kurdish initiative will change the political tableau in Turkey completely because the front lines in politics will be drawn anew."

If some agreement is reached and the initiative executed successfully, the process will no doubt contribute significantly to Turkey's bid for membership of the European Union. The EU and the United States both regard the PKK as a terrorist organisation, and are likely to approve of the decision to refrain from seeking a ceasefire with the organisation while at the same time making inroads for a democratic solution to the issue. However, the road to EU accession is still a long one for Turkey, which has opened negotiations with the EU on only eleven of the 35 policy areas that a candidate for EU membership must complete before joining the block. Even a peaceful solution to the long-running Kurdish problem may not be enough to tip the balance in favour of Turkish membership.

South Korea launches satellite

South Korea attempted to put a satellite into orbit on Tuesday, launching a rocket into space from its own territory for the first time, in a nationally televised event. Despite widespread celebration for the event, the minister of education, science and technology, Ahn Myong-man, said the rocket was unsuccessful in putting the satellite into its intended orbit.

Although there was no immediate reaction from North Korea on Tuesday, it has previously said that it will "closely watch" for any criticism by the United States and its allies of the rocket launch, no doubt hoping to contrast any criticism, or lack thereof, with that visited upon North Korea when it launched a rocket of its own four months ago. Although it is widely suspected that the North's launch was, in fact, a cover for the testing of long-range ballistic missile technology, the North insists it was part of a peaceful space program and accused the United Nations of hypocrisy when it imposed sanctions.

US soldiers killed in Afghanistan as death toll reaches eight year high

Four US soldiers, under the command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, were killed in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday when a roadside bomb struck during a patrol. Their deaths bring the number of foreign forces killed in 2009 to 295, the highest number of deaths in a single year since the war began in 2001.

The recent deaths are yet more evidence that the security situation in Afghanistan is in sharp decline; at least 63 foreign troops were killed this month alone. Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on Sunday described the security situation in Afghanistan as "serious and deteriorating". He attributed the increase in deaths to the improved tactics and sophistication of the Taliban insurgency. As a result, American military commanders with the NATO mission fear that they do not have enough troops to successfully counter the insurgency, the New York Times reported.

Four police die in suicide bomb attack in Chechnya

A suicide bomber killed at least four people in the Mesker-Yurt village in southern Chechnya on Tuesday. The bomber detonated the device in the vicinity of an SUV, carrying four policemen, which was parked in a service station. Officials have identified the bomber as Magomed Shakhidov, a 25-year-old former Chechen rebel who was jailed in 2004 and rejoined the rebels upon his release from prison.

The bombing is the latest in a series of attacks by Chechen rebels. Last week, two suicide bombers on bicycles killed four policemen and wounded another three in the streets of Grozny.

More bodies found in Swat Valley

The bodies of 22 suspected militants were found in Pakistan's Swat Valley on Monday and Tuesday, bringing to a total of 40 the number of bodies located in the region in the past week. The bodies had been dumped in fields or alleys; nineteen bodies, in areas north of Mingora, Swat's central town, and three bodies in the Danagram area on the outskirts of Mingora. For the most part, the victims had been shot, sometimes several times, and were blindfolded with their hands behind their backs. As many as 200 bodies have been discovered by locals since they returned to the area in mid-July, after fleeing violence in April.

Local residents have reported that the deaths are attributable to extra-judicial killings carried out by Pakistani security forces as part of their offensive against the Taliban, and a leading Pakistani human rights organisation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, has called such reports "credible." The organisation called for a proper investigation into the identities of the victims and the causes of their deaths. Military officials accepted that the army had been conducting operations in areas where the bodies were found, but rejected the assertion that security forces had been summarily executing Taliban fighters after detaining them. Instead, a top government official in the area suggested that the killings could have been the "result of revenge by local people."



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