Top Turkish security council says Syrian people must be protected

Photo: AA

February 27, 2012, Monday/ 20:17:00

Turkey's top military council has said it is important to protect the Syrian people and deliver humanitarian aid in the face of increasingly growing violence and bloodshed in its southern neighbor, calling on the international community not to remain indifferent to what it said is a “mass slaughter” in Syria.

Turkey's National Security Council (MGK) said in a statement it released following a five-hour meeting on Monday that the council had reviewed the latest developments in international forums with respect to the violence in Syria and welcomed the UN General Assembly's decision to condemn Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad with an overwhelming vote on Feb. 16.

It added that the council also reviewed the conclusions of the “Friends of Syria” conference in Tunis last week.

Activist groups said on Monday the death toll for the 11-month-old uprising in Syria had surpassed 8,000. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told The Associated Press that more than 5,800 of the dead were civilians and that the rest were either members of the military or army defectors.

Assad says he is fighting foreign-backed "armed terrorist groups" and that his main allies -- Russia, China and Iran -- fiercely oppose any outside intervention intended to add him to the list of Arab autocrats unseated by popular revolts in the past year.    

The MGK members also asked the international community not to turn a blind eye to the killings in Syria in a veiled message to Russia and China -- two countries that were successful in blocking a UN Security Council resolution condemning Assad.

Russia has previously voted with China to stop resolutions in the UN Security Council from backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning Assad's crackdown.

The outside world has been powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests has spawned an armed insurrection by army deserters and others.

The Security Council's other demand was to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which says the plight of civilians in Syrian uprising's flashpoint city of Homs is worsening by the hour, has failed to secure a pause in the fighting to allow for the wounded to be evacuated and desperately needed aid to be delivered.    

The relief agency has been pursuing talks with the Syrian authorities and opposition forces for days to secure access to besieged Homs neighborhoods such as Baba Amro, where local activists say hundreds of wounded need treatment and thousands of civilians are short of water, food and medical supplies.     

Observers say creating aid corridors would be a difficult task following the Russian-Chinese veto at the UN Security Council, given that it would require a military intervention and that Russia and China vetoed the measure mainly because of the possibility that such a resolution could lead to a military intervention.

The statement also said members of the MGK discussed in some details the latest developments in the Middle East and North Africa, and particularly the violence in Syria. The statement added that Turkey welcomes some progress in the political transition process in Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

The statement said Turkey, attaching importance to the security and stability of Iraq, continues to closely monitor the developments in its southern neighbor, adding that the Security Council reiterated that there is a need to take tangible steps to end the presence of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.

The statement noted that Turkey will continue fighting against terrorism with the “same determination” and that comprehensive efforts to root out the sources of terrorism will continue without compromising democracy, the rule of law and universal values.

Turkey has taken some steps toward granting more rights for Kurds in an effort to reduce support for the PKK. However, even after decades of fighting, which has cost the lives of tens of thousands of people in the predominately Kurdish Southeast, the violence continues, with PKK members accusing Turkey of ignoring demands for autonomy and for the release of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan from prison.

The authorities were criticized by pro-Kurdish politicians for jailing members of the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) believed to be an urban branch of the terrorist PKK and “a parallel state.”

Hundreds of people, including some elected Kurdish mayors, journalists, scholars and human rights activists, have been arrested as part of the KCK probe that first began in 2009. The suspects deny accusations of ties to the PKK.

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, which has supplied Predator drones to Turkey to assist its fight.

While Turkey has superior firepower there is no sign of a military victory over the PKK. Turkey has granted more cultural rights to the Kurdish minority -- such as broadcasts in the once-banned Kurdish language -- in a failed effort at reconciliation.

The PKK and the country's Kurdish political movement insist on autonomy and education in Kurdish language in schools, which Turkey fears could divide the country along ethnic lines.