BONN — GERMANY, which was criticized for its low profile during the Gulf war, is striving for more visibility in the Kurdish refugee crisis. Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced this week that Germany would help build camps in Iran for Kurdish refugees who had fled their homes in Iraq. Germany is ready to build a camp for 5,000 refugees and more camps, depending on the wishes of Iran, said Lt. Col. Helmut Wendt, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry.
Mr. Kohl said that in Iran, the Germans want to do "something similar" to what the United States is doing near the Turkish-Iraqi border.
Plans call for 20 German helicopters to be sent to Iran to help the refugees there, as well as "200-plus" soldiers to build the camps, says Colonel Wendt. Germany has 20 helicopters and about 250 soldiers in Turkey, he says. Each set of 20 helicopters can transport at least 200 tons of food and medical aid a day. Bonn has earmarked a total of 440 million marks ($250 million) for humanitarian aid for the Kurds.
Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, in a television appearance last week, said it was "fitting" that Germany take a leading role in helping the refugees. He visited Turkey last week to discuss the crisis and plans a trip to Iran early next month. It was Mr. Genscher who pushed the European Community to demand April 14 that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein be tried for war crimes and for "genocide against the Kurds," as Genscher put it.
With the deployment of soldiers to Iran, Germany is sending troops out of the NATO area. During the Gulf war, Bonn said it could not send troops to the Gulf because its Constitution restricts the Army to defense inside the NATO area only - though Kohl is pushing to change this.
The Kurd case has the potential of being a springboard to a reinterpretation of the Constitution, says a Western diplomat in Bonn, but the government seems to be avoiding this at the moment, he adds.
Indeed, Bonn says the deployment to Iran is for humanitarian, not military, purposes, and therefore not subject to constitutional restrictions.
It is also keeping its soldiers well away from involvement in Iraq, which could result in military confrontation.
"Strike the word 'Iraq' from the Bundeswehr," Wendt says. The Army is neither transporting aid to refugees in Iraq nor building camps there, he adds.
But there is broad support in Bonn for protecting the Kurds from Iraqi attack, even if this means use of force.