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Turkey's purged NATO staff not coup plotters: alliance commander

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO's top commander said on Wednesday he did not believe Turkish personnel sacked from NATO command were involved in July's abortive coup and has raised his concerns with Turkey about the impact on its armed forces.

Curtis Scaparrotti, a U.S general who is NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said some 150 military staff, or half of the Turkish military under his command at NATO, had been detained, recalled or retired from the alliance after the July 15 coup attempt.

Asked if he thought they might have been involved in the planning of a coup, Scaparrotti said: "No ... These officers served well here in NATO."

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"I have a concern about what happened to the people who were working for us," he told reporters following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, saying he had raised the issue with the chief of Turkey's military General Staff.

"I've said to General (Hulusi) Akar, my concern is that they would follow the rule of law and treat their people appropriately," Scaparrotti said, adding that Akar had promised he would "personally look into their welfare".

Reuters exclusively reported in October that Turkish authorities had dismissed hundreds of senior military staff serving with NATO in Europe and the United States following July's coup attempt as part of a wide-reaching security clampdown that has raised human rights concerns.

Last month a sacked Turkish general assigned to NATO in Germany told Reuters the government's purges were inflicting deep long-term damage on NATO's second biggest military.

"NOTICEABLE" IMPACT

Scaparrotti, who is expected to continue in his role under the new U.S.. administration, said the impact of the purges was "noticeable", adding that the group most affected tended to be experienced senior officers who often played a role in training.

So far, about 75 Turkish military personnel have been replaced at NATO and some posts are still open, he said. The Turkish air force has been particularly hard hit as many pilots are suspected of involvement in the coup and are now in custody.

Western countries stress that Turkey remains a crucial NATO ally and they have condemned the July 15 putsch. But they have also pressed Ankara to respect the rule of law as it seeks to root out suspected coup plotters from its military.

Canada's Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said he had expressed his country's concerns over the scale of the purges to his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at Wednesday's talks.

"As a friend, we are asking Turkey to stay faithful to the universal values that we share," he said.

Ankara says the scale of its crackdown is justified by the gravity of events on July 15, when rogue soldiers commandeered tanks, fighter jets and helicopters, bombing parliament and government buildings in their attempt to seize power.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Gareth Jones)

 
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