Turkish Kurds in Makhmur camp hesitant to return

Friday, September 19 2003 @ 10:21 pm UTC

MAKHMUR - A spokesman for around 10,000 Turkish Kurds living in a U.N. refugee camp in Iraq\'s Makhmur district said the partial amnesty recently introduced by Turkey failed to meet their expectations, adding they demand Turkey to recognize Kurdish identity as the precondition of returning to their homes in Turkey.
The refugees left their homes in Southeastern Anatolia in the 1990s, during Turkey\'s anti-terror struggle fought against the terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK/KADEK) that claimed almost 37,000 lives. \"We conveyed our preconditions to a Turkish officer who visited the camp two months ago. We want to come back, but at first Turkey should recognize Kurdish identity and sit at the table with the PKK,\" said a spokesman for the refugees of Makhmur camp.

They were settled first in Atrush camp, near the Turkish border in northern Iraq, but the U.N.-run camp had to be dispersed as a result of Turkey\'s growing unease with the camp on suspicions that it was a hotbed for PKK terrorist activities.

The United Nations afterwards had to move the camp to Makhmur, located in the outskirts of Erbil, which was under the control of the Saddam regime before the war. Now Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) militias run the territory.

Turkish Parliament passed a bill last month for a period of six-months foreseeing partial and conditional amnesty to members of the PKK, in an aim to dissolve the terrorist organization which has around 6,000 armed militants in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq and accelerate the return process of the Turkish Kurd refugees.

\"The partial amnesty failed to meet our expectations, it should have been wide-ranging. We were preparing to return to our homes before the amnesty, but the partial amnesty frustrated us,\" refugee spokesman stated.

\"My child is still in the mountains. I can see him here in Makhmur but if I return to Turkey I couldn\'t see him. How can I return?\" he asked.

Refugee spokesman claims US thinks partial amnesty falls short
A spokesman said they talked on the issue with U.S. officials, who also think that the amnesty fell short.

\"Two months ago, Turkish infantry captain in northern Iraq visited the camp and told us that he was speaking in favor of the Turkish state, and Turkey wants us to return to our homes. We discussed the issue and conveyed our preconditions to him,\" said the refugee spokesman.

\"He has not answered our demands yet. But he told us that recognizing Kurdish identity is a political decision and he cannot say anything on the issue,\" he said.

\"I think Turkey is conducting a policy through the camp to dissolve the PKK,\" he added.

The visit of the Turkish captain to Makhmur camp caused the unease of the United Nations. United Nations officials say Turkey and the United States want to close down the camp.

Meanwhile, after the war, in a raid of U.S. forces on the camp, hundreds of weapons were seized by U.S. soldiers.

The United Nations, however, is very disturbed both because of the visit of the Turkish captain and the unexpected searches and joint inspections of U.S. and Turkey carried out without its knowledge. If a return is to take place, the United Nations wants it to be done voluntarily and administered by civilians.

Terrorist experts say the Makhmur camp has become a recruiting and training ground for the PKK, especially after the prospects of a military operation against the PKK militants in the Qandil mountains have increased.

Asked on the possible return that was foreseen by the refugees, the spokesman said they may review their decisions and demands after the ending of the six-month period of partial amnesty.

Makhmur governor says even he is in danger
The governor of Makhmur Abdulrahman Belaf said it is very difficult to ensure the security of the camp and region because of the PKK problem.

\"We want the camp to be carried to another place, they are creating problems. I recently detained a PKK militant, then nearly 30 refugees wanted his release,\" he stated.

\"I can say that even I am in danger,\" he added.

Meanwhile, U.N. officials in Ankara say Turkish officials are not making any preparations for the repatriate of refugees.

\"Certain conditions should be met by the Turkish government. These include economic measures that would sustain basic living standards for the returnees and creation of an atmosphere of freedom which would facilitate their integration into society,\" added the U.N. officials.

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