Turkish army kills Kurds in new clashes

Turkish soldiers killed 20 Kurdish guerrillas on Sunday in a major military operation against separatist rebels in eastern Turkey, army sources said.

The operation involving 8 000 troops backed up from the air was launched in the central-eastern province of Tunceli. The sources gave no word on army casualties.

With Ankara also focused on what it sees as a significant threat from Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq, the Turkish foreign minister said a military solution was still on the table to tackle rebels who use Iraq’s mountainous north as a stronghold to strike into Turkey.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has killed about 40 people in the past month—12 soldiers were killed in the latest major attack and the group said it took eight prisoner.

In Istanbul, three people were slightly injured by an explosion at a demonstration being held to protest against escalating PKK violence.

As Ankara comes under pressure to deal with the PKK, Turkish-Iraqi talks aimed at preventing a cross-border operation into northern Iraq collapsed late on Friday after Ankara rejected Iraqi proposals as insufficient.

Turkey has massed up to 100 000 troops, backed by fighters, helicopter gun ships and tanks on the border for a possible offensive against about 3 000 rebels using Iraq as a base from which to carry out attacks in Turkey.

The army sent more equipment to the border on Sunday, although army sources said preparations were almost complete.

Alongside diplomatic initiatives, Turkey has used tough rhetoric seen as an attempt to press the United States and Iraq into action. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday a military operation could be carried out whenever it was needed.

“For example, we can use or continue to use diplomatic means, or resort to military means.
All of these are on the table, so to speak,” Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said in translated comments on Iran’s Press TV television channel.

Separatist campaign

Ankara has demanded Iraq hand over all northern Iraq-based members of the PKK, which is blamed for more than 30 000 deaths since the start of its separatist campaign in south-east Turkey in 1984.

But the central government has little control over semi-autonomous northern Iraq run by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), whose leader Masoud Barzani has vowed not to hand over anyone to Turkey.

“I will not hand over any person to any regional state no matter the cost. However, in truth, I will not allow any PKK official to use the Kurdistan region as a base or to be present here and threaten the security of Turkey,” Barzani said in an interview with al-Jazeera television aired on Sunday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who told him that diplomatic channels were being exhausted and Turkey was determined to root out the PKK from northern Iraq, state news agency Anatolian reported.

Ahmadinejad also told Iraq overnight that he supported a crackdown on the PKK but wanted a peaceful solution. Iran also has a Kurdish minority and has faced cross-border attacks by rebels, to which it has responded by shelling targets in Iraq.

The US fears a Turkish incursion could destabilise the relatively peaceful north of Iraq and the wider region. It called for continued dialogue after the failed Ankara talks, at which it was also represented.

“We want to encourage this ongoing Turkish-Iraqi dialogue,” said State Department spokesperson Rob McInturff.

Turkish-US ties have deteriorated sharply in recent weeks but Erdogan is due to visit President George Bush on November 5.

Senior Turkish diplomats say Erdogan has given Washington and Baghdad a time limit to show concrete results or steps to be taken and the Washington meeting is the last chance.

The military has recently carried out as many as 24 limited operations against the PKK in northern Iraq, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said on Friday. Turkish helicopters and F-16 jets have attacked rebel positions in Iraq in recent days.—Reuters

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