Turkey Military Worried about Islamic Militants

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey’s powerful armed forces fear the government is appointing religious radicals to important positions in the bureaucracy–reporters at a briefing with the country’s top general said on Monday.

In commen’s likely to increase tension between the military and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government–Chief of General Staff Hilmi Ozkok told a small group of local journalists there was concern at all levels of the armed forces.

"Ozkok said he was worried at appointmen’s recently of compromised individuals involved in radical religious activities,” journalist Fikret Bila told the CNN Turk channel after the briefing.

Turkey’s generals often summon a hand-picked group of senior columnists for mainstream Turkish newspapers to a private briefing when they have a message they want to make public.

Turkish newspapers have reported in recent weeks that friction is mounting between the secular-minded military and the AKP–which traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement.

Newspapers say the military is also wary about EU-inspired reforms that would ease curbs on the use of the Kurdish language in broadcasting to meet EU membership standards.

Asked about Ozkok’s statement–Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told reporters the reforms would be implemented democratically.

"Turkey is a democratic–secular–social state (abiding by) the rule of law–and everything is developing through a democratic process,” Erdogan said.

Signs of discord between the army and the AKP could scare investors away from Turkey’s financial markets–undermining a $16 billion IMF recovery plan for the EU membership candidate.

The generals see themselves as defenders of Muslim Turkey’s secular system and have staged three coups since 1960. They also pressured the country’s first Islamist-led government from power in 1997.

Ozkok ruled out the possibility of a coup–Bila said–and reaffirmed the military’s support for Turkey’s aim to join the European Union.

EU SAYS HAS ASSURANCES OF NO SPLIT IN TURKEY

EU president Greece said on Tuesday it had been assured by the civilian government of EU hopeful Turkey that there was no split with the powerful military–which has questioned government appointmen’s.

With the military’s role in Turkish life a key question for the European Union in Ankara’s possible membership of the bloc–commen’s by the armed forces that the government was appointing religious radicals to important positions set off alarm bells.

"Ozkok said he was worried at appointmen’s recently of compromised individuals involved in radical religious activities,” journalist Fikret Bila told the CNN Turk channel after the briefing.

Asked to comment on the issue–Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou–whose country is the current European Union president–said Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul had assured him Turkey’s military and government were one.

"Turkey has said that the role of its army cannot be any other than that as in any other democratic country,” Papandreou told reporters. "To serve the state and not the opposite.”

Asked if the military or the government was running the country–Gul told reporters: "The military is also ours.”

Turkish media have reported in recent weeks that friction is mounting between the secular-minded military and the ruling AKP party–which traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement.

Army generals see themselves as defenders of Muslim Turkey’s secular system and have staged three coups since 1960. They also pressured the first Islamist-led government from power in 1997.

Turkey hopes to meet the bloc’s criteria for the start of accession talks by December 2004–a deadline set by Brussels.

The two foreign ministers were attending a meeting of the EU’s southern Arab neighbors as well as Israel in Crete.

During the meeting–they agreed to new measures to ease tensions between neighbors who came to the brink of war as recently as 1996 over territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea.

The new measures include visits of military officers and cadets as well as communications links between two military hospitals across the Aegean.

Until now most confidence-building measures concerned issues such as tourism–the environment and natural disasters.

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