UAE proposes swap of dissidents with Turkey: Report

The undated photo shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, on a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
The undated photo shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, on a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

A Turkish columnist has revealed that the United Arab Emirates is willing to swap dissidents with Ankara in a bid to improve relations that have been strained over a failed coup in Turkey and an evolving diplomatic dispute between the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf region.

Kenan Akin, a columnist with the Turkish newspaper Yenicag, revealed that senior UAE officials had been pressing Turkey for a swap of suspected plotters of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey who are held in the UAE with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest and most popular political party in the Arab world which monarchs in the region see as a threat to their rule.

Akin’s report said the UAE was specifically urging the extradition of nine Brotherhood members from Turkey. He said Abdullah Sultan al-Nuaimi, a senior official at the UAE Foreign Ministry, had revealed details about the proposal to the journalist.

“In Turkey there are nine terrorists who are citizens of ours and work for this organization and we want them to be returned. Mr Hakan [Fidan, head of Turkey’s intelligence service MIT] knows very well who they are,” the report quoted Nuaimi as saying, without elaborating on when the proposal had been made.

It said Nuaimi had drawn a parallel between the Brotherhood and a movement linked to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric based in the United States who is accused by Turkey of engineering the coup. Turkey has branded the outlawed group as Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO) while arresting and dismissing about 200,000 people on suspicion of links to it. Those following and sympathizing with FETO are called Gullenists.

Nuaimi said the UAE had handed over two Turkish generals suspected of having links to FETO to Turkey after apprehending them in a Dubai airport on their way from Afghanistan to Turkey. The official said Abu Dhabi expected a similar decision from Turkey on Brotherhood members.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said on July 26, 2016 that Major General Mehmet Cahit Bakir, the commander of Turkey’s task force in Afghanistan, and Brigadier General Sener Topuc were detained at Dubai airport following cooperation between the Turkish intelligence service and the UAE authorities.

This photo taken on December 31, 2014 shows Major General Mehmet Cahit Bakir of the Turkish Air Army (R) during a ceremony to hand over responsibility to a Turkish unit at Kabul International Airport (KAIA) in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AFP photo)

Turkey had been angered by the UAE’s suspected role in last year’s coup as reports suggested the government of the tiny island nation had provided some three billion dollars to alleged plotters. The report about the UAE proposal came amid a widening diplomatic dispute between Turkey and Arab governments of the Persian Gulf region. Turkey has decided to side with Qatar in the dispute between the gas-rich country and Saudi Arabia-led nations, among them the UAE. Right after the dispute unfolded last month, which came over allegations of Qatar’s support for terrorism, Turkey fast-tracked a piece of legislation on the deployment of troops to a base in Qatar, angering the Saudi-led alliance. However, Nuaimi has said that Turkey’s military presence would not be a problem as long as Ankara was willing to return the nine Brotherhood members.

The UAE has previously tried to repair its strained ties with Turkey. However, the proposal for the swap of Gulenists and Brotherhood members has, at least for the time being, failed to open a channel between the two countries. An itinerary released for an upcoming visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Persian Gulf region misses a major destination, and it is the United Arab Emirates.

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