ANKARA (Reuters)–Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Friday the European Union expected Turkey to take further strides in its human rights record before a date can be set for membership talks to begin.
Ankara has lobbied the bloc to set a date for talks by the end of 2002–during Denmark’s EU presidency–which it will take from Spain in the second half of this year.
"Accession negotiations with Turkey can start if and when Turkey fulfills the political criteria," Rasmussen told a news conference after meeting Turkish counterpart Bulent Ecevit.
"Denmark attaches the utmost importance to human rights–including minority rights."
Turkey has been an EU candidate since 1999–but its treatment of its 12 million-strong Kurdish minority and slow political reforms have delayed the serious accession talks.
Although last year parliament bowed to a key EU demand and lifted a ban on Kurdish-language broadcasting–coalition in fighting has prevented the passage of laws to bring the legal code in line with the changes–and broadcasters airing music or movies in Kurdish are still punished.
Kurdish language education is also strictly prohibited–and earlier this year police arrested hundreds of university students and parents who petitioned to lift the ban.
Turkey does not officially recognize its Kurds as a minority and fears granting more linguistic and cultural rights could encourage the Kurds to seek greater autonomy.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched a bloody campaign for a Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey in 1984–but violence has waned since the capture and death sentence of leader Abdullah Ocalan three years ago.
The PKK features in Washington’s list of "terrorist" organizations–its guerrillas blamed for the deaths of more than 30,000 people killed in the conflict with Turkish soldiers.
But the EU has omitted PKK from its own list and Turkey says Kurdish rebels enjoy safe haven in some EU nations.
However–Rasmussen said Copenhagen considers the PKK a "terrorist" group.
"The Danish attitude is that the PKK is and should be considered a terrorist organization which implies that it should be included on the list of terrorist organizations," he said–adding that the EU list should correspond with that of the US.