Turkey Says Kurds Not Fleeing Persecution

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey on Monday rejected European pressure to find a political solution to its festering Kurdish problem–under scrutiny by Western capitals fearing a wave of Kurdish immigran’s from Turkish ports.

The Foreign Ministry said hundreds of Kurdish illegal aliens who reached Italy on flimsy boats last week were fleeing economic hardship–not political repression as suggested by Italian leaders.

"Everybody knows that these people are leaving Turkey in search of a better life for themselves and their families. They are not fleeing persecution," ministry spokesman Sermet Atacanli told a news briefing.

"In parts of Europe there is a tendency to see it from a different angle. It has got nothing to do with human rights and other issues," he said.

Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro last week angered Turkey by saying Rome had its arms "wide open" to Kurdish refugees escaping repression.

And Bonn–concerned about a possible flow of Kurdish refugees to Germany via Italy–urged Turkey to end a 13-year-old Kurdish rebellion through dialogue.

"Turkey must say that it wants to deal with its internal Kurdish problem and that doesn’t mean militarily–but politically," Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said on Sunday.

Turkey has refused to grant minority rights to its 10 million or so Kurds and says the separatist conflict in its mountainous southeast is a matter simply of "terrorism."

More than 27,000 people have been killed in the fight between Turkish forces and the Kurdistan Workers Party which seeks Kurdish self-rule.

Hundreds of thousands of villagers have fled to Turkey’s cities in recent years to escape the fighting. The army and the PKK accuse each other of forcibly evacuating settlemen’s in the southeast.

Tough anti-rebel tactics are the source of many Western complaints about Turkey’s poor human rights record. Rights violations were cited by Europe last month as one of the main obstacles to Turkey’s membership of the European Union.

Turkish Interior Minister Murat Basesgioglu on Monday went into a high-level meeting with army and security officials on the immigration problem as police cracked down on migran’s using Turkey as a staging post for illegal entry into Europe.

Police raiding low-budget hotels in Istanbul detained 310 migran’s from the mainly Kurdish northern Iraq–Anatolian news agency said. They also arrested a number of Turkish businessmen thought to have been acting as agents for the migran’s on their way to western Europe.

Police also detained 29 Iraqis and eight Pakistanis intending to make the short sea crossing to the Greek islands from the western coastal province of Aydin–the agency said.

About 1,200 refugees–many of them Kurds from Turkey–have landed on the Italian coast in the past week. Many others are Kurds from neighboring Iraq–who first cross into Turkey.

Atacanli said Italy would attract more illicit Kurdish migration if it went ahead with plans to grant political asylum to Kurds on a large scale.

"I’m afraid it will serve no purpose other than encouraging more to follow," he said. "People planning such dangerous–hazardous trips should not be encouraged by false signs from Europe."

Foreign aid workers in Turkey say the Kurds are fleeing both grinding poverty and the conflict. "In fact–economic reasons may be dominant for the migration," an aid official said.

He said hundreds of Iraqi Kurds trying to get away from factional fighting and even worse poverty in northern Iraq were among two boatloads of migran’s that landed in Italy last week.

Turkey–with a long rugged coastline–is a springboard to Europe for many economic refugees from Asia.

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