- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 25 (UPI) — Turkey Tuesday moved to reassure the international community that troop incursions into Northern Iraq were for humanitarian, not military, purposes in a bid to quell criticism of its tactics in the Kurd-controlled region of the country.

European Commission spokesman Reijo Kempinnen said the Turkish ambassador to NATO assured commission chief Romano Prodi that Turkish armed forces had no intention of launching any military action in northern Iraq.

"Whatever the size or nature of their possible military presence on the Iraq side of the border, they are only for humanitarian purposes to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe," Kemppinen said.

"Needless to say, we expect them to respect this fully," the EU spokesman added.

During the first Gulf War in 1991, almost 500,000 Kurdish refugees fled into eastern Turkey after violent reprisals from Iraqi troops. Ankara has repeatedly stressed its troops are only in the area to protect its borders and guide refugees to secure camps in Northern Iraq.

On Monday, the EU warned Turkey a large-scale invasion of the Kurdish part of Iraq could jeopardize its chances of joining the Brussels-based bloc.

At a December meeting of EU leaders in Copenhagen, Turkey received the green light to start membership talks next year, on condition that it fulfills the club's strict human rights criteria.

However, EU officials have warned Ankara that its application could be held up if Turkish forces fail to respect Iraq's boundaries and continue to occupy the northern half of the divided Mediterranean island state of Cyprus.

The United States is also furious with the Muslim state for refusing to allow American troops to be stationed on its territory.

EU politicians lined up Monday to warn Turkey against any further advances into northern Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons it "would be entirely unacceptable for there to be any incursion."

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said, "Very strong pressure must be put on Turkey to let it know that taking such action will be a determining factor in refusing it entry to Europe."

After a fierce debate within the alliance, NATO last month agreed to send surveillance planes and surface-to-air missiles to protect Turkey in the event of an attack by Iraq leader Saddam Hussein.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned Turkey it would withdraw all its servicemen manning alliance AWACS surveillance planes if troops occupied Northern Iraq.

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