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Saturday, 26 August 2006

Troops to Lebanon: a presidential wade-in

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer placed himself firmly in the "no" camp yesterday over the matter of sending Turkish troops to southern Lebanon.

"It is not our job to solve the security problems of others when we have our own internal security issues," he told reporters yesterday. And then he hit back at those who argued, this blog included, that sending troops could only benefit Turkey's international position: "If Turkey is a great state, this image will not be altered whether troops are sent or not."

He said his objection lay in the fact that the upcoming UN force did not have a mandate for humanitarian aid. What is more, he argues, "why should we be in Lebanon while we are not supported in our battle with (the PKK)?"

The government responded through parliament speaker Bülent Arınç: "Sending troops is the government's business. The president has no authority or responsibility at this stage." It's true, too. Under the constitution, parliament can bypass the presidential veto when it comes to such matters as sending troops.

While Mr Sezer is constitutionally entitled to his views as president, it does not make him right. Comparisons with the PKK are simply not relevant, but if they must be made, focus should be on how hundreds more have been killed in Lebanon and Israel than in southeast Turkey over the past month. The upcoming UN force will stop the fighting that has caused those deaths. Turkey will be saving lives simply by being there.

In the meantime, time is running out. The UN says it is now close to receiving all the pledges it needs for a full peacekeeping force - Turkey has yet to promise anything. A parliamentary vote is needed, and quickly.

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