EU Undertakes Major Assault on PKK, Backed By US
By Jonathan Winer
Outside of Turkey, there has been remarkably little attention paid to the major European raids against the PKK, which began in early February in France and have now included operations in Belgium and by some accounts, possibly Germany as well, with arrests of some 40 people in all on charges relating to terrorism and terrorist finance.
According to wire reports and articles in the Turkish press, the operation is being conducted within the scope of an investigation into the financing of terrorism, organized crime, and money laundering, including trafficking in narcotics and extortion in order to finance the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorist organization. In Paris, PKK Council members Riza Altun and Nedim Seven were reportedly being questioned, while the head of PKK Kongra-Gel, Zubeyir Aydar, was released after supplying police with required information.
The activities come in the wake of long-standing U.S. efforts to press for greater action against the PKK. According to Turkish sources, the U.S. provided the Turkish Foreign Ministry with a list of 148 names of PKK activities involved in terrorist activities in 2006, which included PKK operatives in a number of European countries and operating in northern Iraq.
According to a Turkish press account the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, a well-regarded career diplomat, told Turkish business leaders last week that the US had pressed for a Europe-wide crackdown on the PKK, stating that the U.S. was working to ensure "that the financial sources of the PKK will be cut and main leaders of the PKK are detained." Wilson was quoted as saying that the US had been trying to convince the European governments that they should take the PKK issue "more seriously" since the autumn of 2005.
In a press conference, Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried confirmed U.S. efforts to press Europe to take action against the PKK, and expressly linked it to the need to segregate PKK terrorists from Kurdish political institutions in northern Iraq. Fried said that the arrests in Europe were "good news," and promised that there would be more arrests to come, as well as the closing of the Makhmour refugee camp in Northern Iraq, which he said had been heavily infiltrated by the PKK. Ambassador Fried also hinted that there "are other things which might be done, but they are of a nature that should not be discussed with the media openly."
But the situation regarding the PKK in Europe remains complex.
Notably, Belgium actually released a number of alleged PKK leaders by the end of the week after their arrests, stating that no action could be taken against them because they had been given asylum on the grounds of the risk of political prosecution by Turkish authorities.
Meanwhile, at least 12,000 Kurds, primarily from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, demonstrated in the French city of Strasbourg on February 10 for the release of jailed former Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan. Ocalan was abducted in Kenya in February 1999 and sentenced to death in Turkey for high treason, later commuted to life imprisonment.
The situation illustrates the high stakes and complex cross-currents for the U.S. in maintaining and strengthening its relationship with Turkey, whose cooperation it will need on many fronts as the war in Iraq continues to play out, even as the U.S. works to provide a stable enclave in Northern Iraq for Iraqi Kurds.