Turkey government to use $12 billion investment to fight terror

(Today's Zaman) - The government is planning to make a broad series of investments worth as much as $12 billion in the impoverished Southeast in a new economic effort intended to create jobs and draw young men away from militancy, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.

The program is intended to drain support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) by improving the lives of residents of southeastern Anatolia, the majority of whom are Kurds, Erdoğan said in remarks published in The New York Times on Wednesday.

The government, under pressure from the United States, the European Union and liberals at home to speed up efforts to address the non-military aspects of terrorism and prevent more people in the impoverished Southeast from joining the PKK, has repeatedly stated that there was no special "package" of measures planned. But it is working to revitalize an existing regional development program, known as the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), and one Cabinet minister, Nazım Ekren, recently toured southeastern provinces to study measures for a speedy conclusion of GAP.

Successive Turkish governments have invested large sums of money in GAP in past decades, but the project is only 60 percent complete. Erdoğan announced in January that his government would make GAP investments a priority with a view of finishing it in the next five years.

He told The New York Times that the state will invest between $11 billion and $12 billion over five years to build two large dams and an irrigation system, complete paving roads and remove land mines from fields along the Syrian border. Plans for the project will be completed within two months, he said, at which point construction on the two dams would begin. "Everything we can see in the western part of the country we can see in the east," he said.

Erdoğan's remarks followed a major ground offensive into northern Iraq last month against the PKK. Erdoğan said the cross-border offensive against terrorism had been backed by the United States but added that military measures alone are not enough in combating terrorism. "The fight against terrorism is not only this. ... It also has a socioeconomic part, a psychological part, a cultural part," he said.

In this respect, he said the government would dedicate a state television channel to Kurdish language broadcasting, a measure that Kurds in Turkey have sought for years. The television channel will also include Persian and Arabic programming, Erdoğan said, and should be up and running in several months. "This will be the most important step in providing cultural rights to the region," he said.

The prime minister also reconfirmed the willingness to mend troubled relations with the Iraqi Kurds, whom Ankara suspects are supporting the PKK. "We are the most important door for northern Iraq to open up to the world," he said. "We are the healthiest door."

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, had talks with Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül in Ankara last week in his first official visit to Turkey since his election as president in 2005. Turkish and Iraqi leaders announced plans to develop business ties, and Talabani suggested a readiness to help Turkey fight the PKK. The United States, which has helped Turkey in a series of cross-border operations into Iraq since Dec. 16 by providing military intelligence, is urging Ankara and Iraq to work together to deal with PKK terrorism.

Turkey has chosen not to negotiate directly with the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq, led by Massoud Barzani, despite the fact that many of the PKK terrorists it is chasing hide in that territory. Erdoğan added, however, that informal contacts had been made with the area's representatives. "We have relatives in northern Iraq," he said. "And people living there have relatives in our southeastern region. With whom will we have good relations if not with ourselves?"

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