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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 15:45 GMT
Turkey rejects Ramadan pause
Special forces
Turkish forces have experience in mountainous terrain
Turkey sees no reason for the US-led war on Afghanistan to pause for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a spokesman for the country's president has said.


There is no need to observe a break in fighting terrorism because of values terrorism doesn't respect

Turkish spokesman
The announcement comes a day after Turkey - Nato's only member with a majority Muslim population - said it would send 90 members of its special forces to join the campaign.

"Terrorism doesn't respect holy values, festivals or Ramadan," a spokesman for President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said.

The decision to deploy troops has divided public opinion in Turkey.

Some see it as improving the country's chances of attracting western aid and accelerating European integration. But others are angry at the idea of Turkish soldiers taking up arms against other Muslims.

Role in question

"Of course the month of Ramadan, bearing in mind that the majority of Turkish people are Muslim, is a period we are sensitive to...but there is no need to observe a break in fighting terrorism because of values terrorism doesn't respect," the presidential spokesman said.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said Turkey would do its best to "keep distress to a minimum in such a sensitive month".


We hope this problem will reach a positive result without any slide into a situation similar to the one in Vietnam or the Soviet Union's experience in Afghanistan

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit
The United States on Thursday said it did not plan to halt its campaign for the holy month.

Analysts say Turkey's involvement in the campaign is aimed both at ensuring its influence in any post-Taleban administration in Afghanistan and adding weight to American claims that it is not at war with Islam.

The Turkish troops will carry out a range of duties including supporting the troops of the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance and securing humanitarian aid.

It is not yet clear to what extent they will have a combat role in the campaign.

"We said we can give priority to training. But for now it is not possible to say what circumstances will bring," Mr Ecevit told the Hurriyet newspaper.

But he warned of the dangers of ground operations.

Turkish flags
Turkey is the only Muslim-majority Nato member
"We hope this problem will reach a positive result without any slide into a situation similar to the one in Vietnam or the Soviet Union's experience in Afghanistan," he said.

Turkey's special forces have long experience in fighting Kurdish rebels in the south-east of the country - a mountainous region whose terrain is similar to Afghanistan's - making them likely candidates to see action on the ground.

Political influence

Turkey has also been trying to build up its political influence in Afghanistan.

It has already forged strong links with the Northern Alliance and would be keen to exert its influence in any post-Taleban regime.

President Sezer has also announced he will visit Tajikistan - which borders Afghanistan - next Wednesday.

Turkey also has its own security fears - if the war were to extend beyond Afghanistan, its eastern borders might become destabilised.

See also:

20 Oct 01 | Europe
Turkey steps to the fore
22 Sep 01 | Europe
Turkey opens airspace to US
17 Sep 01 | Business
Turkey rattled by conflict fears
13 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Turkey
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