Turkey charges freed troops with neglect

Eight Turkish troops taken hostage by Kurdish rebels after a deadly ambush have been charged with neglecting their duty during the clash, a defense attorney said Sunday.

The Oct. 21 ambush, which killed 12 other soldiers, had increased pressure on Turkey’s government stage a cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq — an operation the U.S. has discouraged for fear of destabilizing a relatively calm part of Iraq.

Rebels released the eight captive soldiers earlier this month. They were charged Saturday with “disobedience that could lead to a major catastrophe” and “undermining military discipline,” said lawyer Ramazan Korkmaz, who represents the soldiers. Two of the soldiers also face a charge of “escaping abroad.”

Rebels from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, ambushed the soldiers in southeastern Turkey and held them hostage at a rebel base across the border in Iraq.

Fighting in the border area has claimed dozens of lives on the Turkish side — most of them soldiers — in less than two months. During the same period, at least 88 rebels have been killed, according to the Turkish military and media reports.

Korkmaz, who was not allowed to go through the court file but was present at Saturday’s hearing, said the soldiers were accused of “not properly fulfilling their national duty.”

The soldiers told the court that they had run out of ammunition and some of their weapons were not working when the rebels took them hostage, Korkmaz said. There was no further explanation of why the charges were brought.

Last week, Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin suggested that the soldiers should have fought to the death rather than allowed themselves to be captured.

“I could not accept the fact that these soldiers went with the terrorists that night after the operation,” Sahin said. “Our soldier is the one who ought to risk falling as a martyr while protecting his homeland.”

Sahin stopped short of saying the men had surrendered, however.

Shortly after the soldiers’ return to Turkey, local media here said that they were being interrogated by military authorities. They are being held in a military prison in the eastern province of Van, and it was not immediately clear when they would appear in court again.

Korkmaz said the disobedience charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Charges of escaping abroad would add another five years, he said.

Ibrahim Cagan, the father of one of the soldiers, said Sunday he did not know his son was imprisoned until he saw news reports, and that he and his son had not been able to communicate since his release by the rebels.

“I am very sad,” said Cagan. “I am calling on our heroic army to release my son.”

Turkey has fought since 1984 against the rebels of the PKK, which the United States and the European Union label a terrorist organization. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting.

The government has received authorization from Parliament to hit PKK bases in neighboring Iraq. It has massed tens of thousands of troops along the border to block rebel infiltration and to prepare for a possible cross-border operation.


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