Human Rights Group Links Turk EU Date to Displaced Kurds

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–A leading human rights group said on Wednesday Turkey must do more to help hundreds of thousands of displaced Kurds return to their homes if it is to have a case to begin membership talks with the European Union.

NATO member Turkey–accused by some in Europe of mistreating its large Kurdish population–has told Brussels a swathe of recent legislation means it has done enough to secure a date for accession talks at a December summit in Copenhagen.

But echoing an October EU report–the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Turkey must take concrete steps to guarantee Kurds can return to their homes in the southeast of the country–where thousands of villages were abandoned or forcibly cleared during conflict between the Turkish military and Kurdish guerrillas.

"If the government was to make a clear and unambiguous gesture on the returned before December they will be in a very good position at Copenhagen–" Human Rights Watch Turkey researcher Jonathan Sugden told an Istanbul news conference.

Legislation Turkey passed in August lifts bans on Kurdish language broadcasting and education–key deman’s of Kurds who complain they are unable to exercise their human rights.

The moves were welcomed by the EU–which is concerned about human rights in the only Muslim candidate country–but it says Turkey must do more to implement the measures.

The Interior Ministry says some 380,000 people were displaced during the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) armed struggle for a Kurdish homeland. Non-governmental organizations estimate that number at 1.5 million or more.

Turkey says it is committed to ensuring Kurds can return to thousands of villages through its flagship Village Return and Rehabilitation Project–announced in 1999.

But Sugden says the project lacks transparency and is under funded–reflecting Turkey’s reluctance to unearth and deal with the consequences of what HRW terms a forced evacuation "marked by hundreds of ‘disappearances’ and summary executions."

More than 30,000 people–civilians–rebels and soldiers– have died in the guerrilla conflict–which started in 1984 when Kurdish rebels took up arms for autonomy.

Fighting has decreased significantly since Turkey arrested and jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999. Ankara has also lifted emergency rule regulations in several southeast provinces and plans to lift them in the remaining two next month.

The solution to the issue of Turkey’s displaced Kurds lies in Ankara’s will to draw up a detailed–transparent plan able to attract funding from international organizations–Sugden said.

"They’re terrified of the expense and they’re frightened of the process. If you have an open process you have to make sure people are compensated for their losses. That will open the possibility of civil and criminal action–" said Sugden.

Ankara admits its role in the evacuation of some villages it says were emptied to deny the PKK supply lines and refuge.

Official data indicates as many as 62,000 people could have returned to their villages since 1999.


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