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Friday, September 29, 2006

EU opinion on Kurdish rebels could hit raw nerve in Turkey

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - EU courts in Luxembourg could in Spring 2007 restart hearings on whether Brussels was wrong to brand the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as terrorists, following legal advice that could hit a raw nerve in EU-Turkey relations.

"The Court of First Instance should not have dismissed the application against the inclusion of the PKK on a list of terrorist organisations," the court's advocate general Juliane Kokott said on Wednesday (27 February). "[It] will therefore still have to decide whether it was correct to include the PKK on that list."

The advocate general's opinion is not legally-binding but is usually followed by the EU courts, with EU judges set to give a formal verdict on the admissibility of the PKK appeal around January next year, potentially paving the way for fresh PKK-terror list hearings in March.

The PKK was set up in the 1970s to form an independent Kurdish state in the ethnic-Kurdish region of southeast Turkey, with Ankara blaming it for 30,000 deaths since 1984 and holding its leader - Abdullah Ocalan - for life in jail on an island in the Sea of Marmara.

European pressure groups such as Amnesty International have heaped blame on both Ankara and the PKK for killings and human rights abuses in the past, while the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg upheld its decision in May 2005 that Mr Ocalan did not get a fair trial in 1999.

A Turkish diplomat told EUobserver that "the [PKK] opinion is a legal not a political issue, which doesn't touch on the substance of the case" but he admitted it could be "badly received" in the popular Turkish press, with Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul considering issuing a statement on the topic on Thursday.

The legal opinion comes on the same day as MEPs voted through a report criticising Turkey on democratic standards in a move set to annoy Turkish nationalist groups such as the Union of Lawyers, who see the EU as trying to weaken the Turkish state.

It also comes in the context of falling public support for Turkey's EU accession on both sides of the Bosphorus, with the latest surveys showing 39 percent support inside the EU and just 35 percent of Turks saying they "trust" the bloc.

Terror list gripes
The EU put the PKK on its list of terrorist entities in 2002 in a move that carries political stigma as well as obliging EU member states to freeze PKK financial assets and block any funds from being channelled to the group.

The PKK's appeal against the decision - thrown out in February 2005 - was complicated by the fact the PKK split up into various branches with new names such as KGK, HSK, KHK and KADEK between 2003 and 2005.

The EU's terror list has recently caused controversy in other areas, with the addition of Sri Lanka's "Tamil Tigers" in May leading to the expulsion of Nordic EU peace-brokers from the island, and with the inclusion of Hamas complicating EU humanitarian aid payments to Palestine.
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