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EU Asks Turkey To Give Kurds Greater Rights - 2004-09-07

A top European Union official says Turkey needs to do more for its Kurdish minority. The E.U. Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, was speaking during a tour of Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast region.

Mr. Verheugen is touring the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakir on the first leg of a five-day fact-finding tour in Turkey.

Mr. Verheugen's mission is to assess whether Turkey is ready to begin accession negotiations with the European Union.

When E.U. leaders convene for their last summit of the year in December, the Union will make a decision on opening talks that would lead to Turkey's eventual membership in the 25-member bloc. A report evaluating Turkey's progress will be published by the European Union on October 6.

E.U. governments have long criticized Turkey over the treatment of its estimated 12 million ethnic Kurds, who make up about a fifth of the country's population. Rights groups have accused security forces of systematic abuses against Kurdish civilians during a 15-year long separatist insurgency waged by rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

According to the findings of a Turkish parliamentary commission, security forces forcibly evacuated and torched thousands of villages in the region. Villagers in Tuzla, near Diyarbakir, told Mr. Verheugen that their village was set on fire by security forces in 1995 at the height of the insurgency.

The PKK declared a ceasefire in 1999 following the capture of their leader Abullah Ocalan. Since then there has been a sharp decrease in violence as well as rights abuses in the region.

Turkey has launched a dramatic campaign to bring its laws in line with European Union criteria, including easing restrictions on the long banned Kurdish language. The ruling Justice Development Party is working on plans to compensate and resettle hundreds of thousands of Kurdish villagers displaced by the fighting.

Speaking to reporters at the village, Mr. Verheugen praised Turkey for such initiatives but said there is still much work left to be done. He also condemned the PKK, now known as Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan, or Kongra-Gel, for ending its truce on June 1 because of what the group called Turkey's refusal to negotiate a just and lasting peace.