Afghanistan moves against Turkish schools linked to Erdogan foe

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan has ordered a network of schools run by an organization regarded with suspicion by the Turkish government to be transferred to a foundation approved by Ankara, Afghan officials said.

The move against Afghan Turk CAG Educational NGO (ATCE), the body that runs the schools, appears to be part of Turkey’s campaign against followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric it accuses of being behind a coup attempt in July.

ATCE, which says it is an independent organization, runs schools in several cities including the capital, Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar and Herat and has been in Afghanistan since 1995.

Acting Education Minister Shafiq Samim said the Turkish government had asked for the schools to be placed under the management of a so-called “Vakif”, a Turkish educational and charitable foundation.

He said there would be a “gradual transition” of staff but the government would not expel any of the schools’ Turkish teachers.

“Turkish teachers are our guests and there has not been any decision to expel them,” he told a news conference on Saturday, adding that the schools would continue to operate.

ATCE Chairman Numan Erdogan said his organization had not yet received any government notification, and would challenge any decision to take away management of the schools.

“We have nothing to do with developments in Turkey, none of our teachers is implicated and any allegations against us about that are baseless,” he said.

Last year, shortly before a visit to Islamabad by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Pakistan ordered Turkish teachers at schools run by a body called PakTurk International Schools and Colleges to leave the country.

Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan who nows lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, promotes a moderate form of Islam, supporting inter-faith communication and Western-style education and inspiring schools in different parts of the world.

In the wake of July’s attempted coup, the Turkish president branded him a “terrorist” and pressed other countries to move against him and his supporters.

Turkey has donated around $1 billion in development aid to Afghanistan since 2004, according to the ministry of foreign affairs and is one of the country’s most important economic partners, with ethnic and cultural links in the north.

It also provides more than 500 troops to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and James Mackenzie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez