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Last Updated: Monday, 13 December, 2004, 22:20 GMT
Turkey 'must admit Armenia dead'
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier
France has said Turkey must improve its human rights record
France has said it will ask Turkey to acknowledge the mass killing of Armenians from 1915 as a "tragedy" when it begins EU accession talks.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Turkey had "a duty to remember".

Armenians say 1.5 million of their people died or were deported from their homelands under Turkish Ottoman rule.

Mr Barnier did not say it was genocide, although the French parliament has done so in the past. Turkey says the victims died during civil unrest.

Mr Barnier said France did not consider Turkish acknowledgement a condition of EU entry, but insisted his country would raise the issue once talks opened.

France will pose this question - I think that a big country like Turkey has a duty to remember
Michel Barnier
French Foreign Minister

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of EU foreign ministers to discuss plans to invite Turkey for accession talks, Mr Barnier said Turkey "must carry out this task as a memorial".

In addition, France believes that accession talks should not begin before the second half of 2005, Mr Barnier said. Turkey has pushed for immediate negotiations.

"I believe that when the time comes, Turkey should come to terms with its past, be reconciled with its own history and recognise this tragedy," Mr Barnier said.

'So-called genocide'

His comments drew no immediate official response from Turkey, which has consistently denied orchestrating genocide.

A foreign ministry spokesman in the Turkish capital, Ankara, told Reuters that Turkey has never and will never recognise "any so-called genocide".

Armenia alleges that the Young Turks, in 1915 the dominant party in the Ottoman Empire, systematically arranged the deportation and killing of 1.5 million Armenians.

Turkish relations with independent Armenia, which borders Turkey to the north, have long been coloured by the issue.

About 300,000 Armenians live in France, more than in any other European country, and community leaders have pledged to pressure French President Jacques Chirac on the genocide issue during Turkish accession negotiations.

France passed a law officially recognising the Armenian genocide in 2001, cooling relations with Turkey and scuppering a major arms deal.

Another 14 nations, including Switzerland, Russia and Argentina, also classify the killings as genocide.

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