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Turkey: Prime Minister Pledges Key Role In Resolving Regional Conflicts

New York, 25 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey has signaled its intention to play an important role in promoting peaceful resolution of conflicts in a wide geographical area, saying virtually all major international disputes affect Turkish interests.

Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz told the United Nations General Assembly yesterday that his country's foreign policy is defined by a blend of history, culture and geographic location at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. He said that as a secular democracy with a predominantly Muslim population, Turkey combines its national heritage with a commitment to maintain a modern nation state.

Yilmaz said: "We live in a region where major currents for instability and conflict loom large. Indeed, almost every major issue that consumes the international community from the Balkans to the Caucasus, from the Middle East to the Gulf, affects our security and well-being."

The Turkish prime minister acknowledged that since the end of the Cold War, the world's overall security has improved. But he added: "The resurgence of aggression, extreme ethnic nationalism, tribalism, religious fundamentalism, racism, xenophobia and cultural discrimination pose new threats to international peace and stability."

He said cultural and religious intolerance has been breeding more conflicts than in any time in recent history. And he said international terrorism poses a menace to the civilized world.

Commenting on the Balkans, Yilmaz said the Serb province of Kosovo must regain its autonomous status within federal Yugoslavia that comprises Serbia and Montenegro. Serb and Yugoslav troops have been battling ethnic Albanians for months, and the U.N. has warned of an unfolding humanitarian crisis in Kosovo.

Yilmaz said: "The Balkan region is a test case of the challenges we face in the post-Cold War era. It is here that we must prove that multi-cultural and multi-ethnic societies have a chance to live in peace and harmony."

He said the world has learned a bitter lesson from the Bosnian conflict and that tragedy must never be repeated in Kosovo.

Yilmaz said: "However, the recent violence in Kosovo, similar to what transpired in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is the making of the same mentality."

On Cyprus, Yilmaz said the Greek Cypriot camp has heightened tensions on the island. He also accused Greece of pursuing acts "detrimental to peace and stability in the region."

Yilmaz said the European Union's decision to start accession negotiations with the Greek Cypriot side has perpetuated the division of the island, part of which is occupied by Turkey. Turkey is not an EU member but would like to join.

On the Middle East, Yilmaz said the impasse of the peace process and the plight of Palestinians are a source of great concern for Turkey. He said Turkey is a friend of Arab countries.

Correspondents say that the reference to the Arab friendship was intended to ease concerns about recent Israeli-Turkish military cooperation.

Yilmaz also said Turkey looks forward to Iraq's reintegration into the international community, with its territorial integrity intact through the full implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Turkey, like Iraq, has a large Kurdish minority. Some of the Kurds have been seeking independence and the formation of a Kurdish state.

Concerning Afghanistan, Yilmaz said the long-running war there threatens the peace and stability of the entire region. He said the Afghan conflict can only be resolved through the establishment of a broad-based government. Currently, Taliban forces control 90 percent of Afghanistan.

Yilmaz also called for an urgent settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute and called for "the termination of the Armenian occupation of Azeri territory."

Yilmaz said that peace and stability in the Caucasus also requires the resolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict with full respect for the territorial integrity of Georgia.

He said Turkey wishes to work with Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia so all of them can prosper together.