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Yugoslavia: Turkish Army Circumcising Muslim Kosovar Boys

The multinational NATO-led force in Kosovo arrived in the province just over ten weeks ago to establish law and order and democracy in the province. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from the southwestern Kosovo town of Dragash that in addition to conducting standard peacekeeping duties, one Turkish KFOR battalion is engaged in circumcising young Muslim boys.

Dragash, Kosovo; 25 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Turkish KFOR battalion in the hill town of Dragash in Kosovo's Gora region is engaged in the unlikely business of circumcising young Muslim boys between the ages of five and seven.

In the past month, a Turkish KFOR medical team has brought nearly 150 boys in the region -- Muslim Albanians and members of the Muslim Goran minority -- under the knife in sterile conditions. Local parents in Gora and nearby Prizren, home to a sizable Turkish minority, have asked the Turkish Army medical team to circumcise another 300 young boys.

Circumcision, the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis, is a traditional Muslim practice that in the Balkans and Turkey is performed on young boys in a ceremony preceded by a large family party. Over the weekend, at least two young boys in Prizren dressed up in special circumcision costumes were paraded around town on the roof of their father's car.

Turkish battalion commander Izzet Cetingoz says the circumcision program constitutes about 10 percent of the total number of local residents whom the Turkish KFOR medical unit has treated so far.

"We have a medical team of a general surgeon under the command of a senior medical officer, a major. We have an ambulance vehicle and a nurse and every day they visit one village and they circumcise boys and the next day they come back, examine the boys and look after the other children too."

Commander Cetingoz says the medical team also provides emergency medical assistance.

"This is not the regular job of the Turkish Army. Normally we don't do it in Turkey, but there was a need here requested of us. The children had not been circumcised up to a certain age and unfortunately we have learned that the barbers have been circumcising these boys and they were asking a price of 100 German marks. We know that these people do not have that kind of money. They are poor and we believe that we have done a very important public service."

Cetingoz says that for the past decade, circumcision was not available as a medical procedure in Kosovo. He notes that traditionally, circumcision is only performed on boys up to the age of five. But since so many Kosovar boys were unable to undergo the procedure in recent years, the Turkish Army medical team has given priority to boys between the ages of five and seven. Once they are done, the Turkish commander says, the team, if called upon, will perform the procedure on younger boys.