- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 19, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The Turkish government has ducked a confrontation with the military over Kurdish unrest — at the price of incurring fresh criticism from the European Union that it is not making needed reforms.

Signals from Ankara indicate the problem is likely to surface again as the EU presses Turkey for changes in the treatment of the Kurdish minority and the role of the military.

The EU said recently that Turkey “has lost its appetite for reform.”

Tension remained high yesterday in southeastern Turkey, where security forces were reinforced as Kurds prepared to celebrate the Newroz spring holiday tomorrow.

Authorities in Diyarbakir, one of the centers of Kurdish unrest, banned civil servants from taking part in the festivities, warning violators of disciplinary action. Newroz is not an official holiday in Turkey.

At the same time, the government authorized two regional radio and television stations to start limited programs in the Kurdish language, use of which was until recently banned in public statements. The EU wants Turkey, a membership candidate, to eliminate all such restrictions.

Relations between the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the military have been strained by a report that a leading general had organized a special autonomous military force to fight Kurdish nationalist guerrillas.

When a prosecuting judge called for an investigation of the report, Mr. Erdogan ordered a probe of the judge instead, saying, “No one will gain anything by making the country’s military appear weak.”

“The army is one of our most important institutions,” he added, in what was seen by diplomats as an effort to placate the military.

The general involved, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, is head of Turkey’s land forces and is due to take over as chief of general staff in August. He publicly supports Turkey’s bid to join the EU, but thinks certain reforms demanded by the union would threaten Turkish society and traditions.

Since the creation of the republic in the 1920s, the army has served as the ultimate guardian of the republican system. In 1997, it forced the resignation of Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey’s first openly Islamist prime minister.

The relationship of the military and Mr. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party has undergone periodic strains, mainly because of the party’s Islamist roots and some government measures seen by the army as encouraging fundamentalism.

Prodded by the EU, Turkey has limited the army’s role in the National Security Council, accepted the concept of civilian control over military finances and reduced the army’s judicial autonomy.

But the EU says the reforms fall short of expectations and has asked for the appointment of an ombudsman to fight corruption and an easing of property restrictions for non-Muslim minorities.

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