Belgian police swoop on high-profile Kurds

5th March 2010, Comments 0 comments

Police sought out high-profile Kurds in Belgium on Thursday as part of a Europewide investigation and Turkish sources said 15 arrests included ex-lawmakers.

BRUSSELS - The raids followed an announcement by France on Wednesday that nine Kurds were charged with terror offences following their arrest last week for allegedly recruiting fighters for the PKK separatist group.

"An operation is under way in the Kurdish community across the whole country," Belgian federal prosecutors' spokeswoman Lieve Pellens told AFP. The operation is not finished, she added, promising more details later.

The Firat news agency, which is close to the PKK, reported that those detained included Remzi Kartal and Zubeyir Aydar, top figures coordinating PKK activities in Europe. Both are former Turkish parliament members.

"I'd like to congratulate the Belgian authorities... We appreciate their determination and sense of responsibility," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters.

"This action by Belgium, following (similar operations in) Italy and France, carries a very strong message to groups and organisations providing financial resources for terrorist activities," he said.

In October, the US Treasury Department put Aydar on a list of "significant" foreign drug traffickers, along with two other PKK leaders, saying that they were using drug smuggling to help fund the PKK.

Belgian public radio RTBF said some 300 officers took part in raids in Brussels, Antwerp and other Belgian cities, including at the offices of Kurdish international TV station Roj TV in Denderleeuw.

An AFP correspondent in Diyarbakir, largest city in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey where Roj TV is widely watched, said that the channel's broadcast was cut on Thursday.

Seven of the nine French-based suspects were remanded following charges that included taking part in a terrorist enterprise, financing terrorist activities and violating gun laws.

The French raids were part of an investigation launched in 2008 into activities linked to the PKK, which has been fighting for an independent Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey for more than two decades.

Considered a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, the PKK took up arms against Ankara in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.


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