Turkey says NATO has duty to defend Syrian border

ANKARA Thu Apr 12, 2012 2:36pm BST

ANKARA (Reuters) - NATO-member Turkey has formally reported an incident in which two Turks were wounded by gunfire from Syria this week to the United Nations and NATO, and said the military alliance had a duty to protect Turkey's borders.

At least five people, including two Turkish officials, were wounded on Monday when cross-border shooting hit a refugee camp in Turkey's Kilis province along the Syrian border.

Ankara strongly condemned the "violation" of its border and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would take unspecified measures if it happened again.

Speaking to reporters while returning home from an official visit to China late on Wednesday, Erdogan said Turkey had the right to defend its borders and NATO also had a responsibility.

"We have many options. A country has rights born out of international law against border violations," Erdogan said.

"Also, NATO has responsibilities with regards to Turkey's borders, according to Article 5," said Erdogan, whose country has the second biggest army in NATO.

NATO BORDER

Article 5 of the NATO treaty states an armed attack against one of its members will be considered an attack against all members and allows for the use of armed force. It has been invoked only once, following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who cut short his trip to China earlier this week following the border clash, said on Thursday Turkey had reported the incident to the United Nations and NATO.

"Turkey's border is also a NATO border. Therefore, with regards to NATO member countries' mutual responsibilities, this would become an issue of interest to all these countries ... in terms of protecting the borders," Davutoglu said.

However, in the event of any border violation, Turkey would always reserve the right to act unilaterally, Davutoglu said. Neither Erdogan or Davutoglu specified what measures Turkey might take.

Atilla Sandikli, a former army officer and advisor to Turkey's National Security Council, said Monday's incident would not be reason enough to invoke NATO Article 5 and that Erdogan had just been trying to send a message to its allies.

"This incident was not very big and I do not think this is an incident that would call for NATO to invoke article 5. I think all the prime minister was trying to do was send a message that as a member of NATO, Turkey has the right to call on its allies," Sandikli said.

"It was a reminder to the international community."

REFUGE

Turkey shares a 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria and has given refuge to some 25,000 Syrians, including rebel fighters.

It opposes any intervention in Syria but has indicated it might consider declaring a "buffer zone" to protect civilians if there was a mass influx of refugees across its borders.

Davutoglu said Ankara was focusing on a U.N.-backed ceasefire in Syria and was waiting to see whether Damascus would fully comply with the conditions of withdrawing its armed forces set down by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

"Some information indicates that in some areas withdrawal has started, however, it is vital that this withdrawal is comprehensive. Withdrawing from the cities only to continue offensives on those cities does not amount to withdrawing," he said.

"According to the first signs, there has been a drop in violence in the past few hours but it is too early to make an evaluation."

(Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul; editing by Andrew Roche)

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