Turkish Lawmakers Debate Lebanon Troops

A key member of parliament warned against deploying Turkish peacekeepers to Lebanon as government ministers met Tuesday to hammer out details of a parliamentary resolution to deploy troops.

The Cabinet in Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member and a country with close ties to Israel and Arab states, agreed in principle Monday to contributing to an expanded international force, and said parliament would be convened soon to vote on the measure.

However, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who hold a ceremonial post but wields considerable influence in the country, has come out strongly against the deployment, saying last week that it was not Turkey's "responsibility to protect the interests of other countries."

CountryWatch: Turkey

Mehmet Dulger, head of parliament's foreign affairs commission warned in an interview with Cumhuriyet newspaper that: "Turkish blood has soaked the deserts of the Middle East too many times — that's enough."

"There are those who want (Turkish soldiers) and those who don't."

Turks ruled Lebanon for some 400 years during the Ottoman Empire .

"If a Turkish soldier were to put his finger on the trigger, chaos would break out," he added.

The United States, the European Union and Israel all have been pressing Turkey to send troops. Israel has said it would welcome them, and many fear that without Muslim soldiers, the Lebanese may look at the peacekeepers as a Christian force.

Although there is mounting opposition even within Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan 's ruling party to a possible Turkish contribution, few believed it was strong enough to block a government resolution in parliament.

Turkey's government has a strong majority in parliament, and with elections expected next year, very few were likely to vote against Erdogan's wishes.

"I will be voting against it," Abdullah Caliskan, a legislator from Erdogan's party told The Associated Press. "But I don't think there will be a repeat of March 1."

On March 1, 2003, the government was rebuffed by its own legislators, who helped defeat a parliamentary motion to allow U.S. troops to use Turkish territory to prepare for an Iraq invasion.

Erdogan met with top ministers, his advisers and leading legislators Tuesday to discuss Turkey's contribution. Military leaders were not immediately present at the meeting. A vote in parliament was expected to be scheduled during Tuesday's meeting.

The Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions, a union representing some 300,000 people, has launched a campaign against the deployment of troops.

Union head Suleyman Celebi said Turkey had enough problems dealing with its violence in the southeast, where Turkish troops are battling Kurdish rebels fighting for independence.

"When coffins keep arriving inside the country, and with this problem still unresolved, no one can accept coffins arriving from other countries," he said.