Turkish FM rejects cease-fire by Kurdish rebels

Says Turkey dealing with terrorist organization; Turkish forces mass on border with Iraq and tensions rise over threatened military incursion.

October 23, 2007 16:37
4 minute read.
Turkish FM rejects cease-fire by Kurdish rebels

Babacan Iraq 224.88. (photo credit: AP)

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan rejected any cease-fire by Kurdish rebels Tuesday as he met with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad to press them to crack down on the guerrillas. Turkish forces massed on the border and tensions rose over a threatened military incursion. Babacan, speaking after meeting his Iraqi counterpart, said there are several ways to fight terrorism and Ankara would use them when appropriate as the buildup of troops along Turkey's border with Iraq continued with military helicopters airlifting commando units into the area overnight. The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, insisted there was a "resolve and insistence on the part of the Iraqi government" to cooperate with Turkey to resolve the border issue "and deal with the terrorism that Turkey is subjected to." He said he and Babacan had agreed on concrete measures but he didn't elaborate, saying a high-level political and military defense delegation would travel soon to Turkey. Iraq's central government and authorities in its Kurdish autonomous region in the north, he said, will work together to deny the PKK freedom of movement, funds and representative offices. The stepped up diplomatic activity followed Sunday's rebel ambush near the Iraqi border that left 12 Turkish soldiers dead, 16 wounded and eight missing. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with British leaders in London and warned that Turkey cannot wait forever for the Iraqi government to act against the rebels in the north. Britain has backed the United States in trying to keep Turkey from crossing into Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels based there. The US and others fear a Turkish attack could lead to widespread bloodshed in one of Iraq's few relatively peaceful areas. "To this day, I have met the Iraqi central government four times. We have dwelled upon these issues very carefully," Erdogan said in London through an interpreter. "We waited for 14 months for this mechanism to bear fruit, but it did not, and we cannot wait forever." Erdogan said he would continue to consult with US-led forces in Iraq and the central government "whether or not they have some influence on the north," but added: "From this point forward we're also looking at the military dimension." In Baghdad, Erdogan's foreign minister sounded equally firm, but tempered his remarks. "We also don't wish our historical and friendly ties with Iraq to be ruined because of a terrorist organization," he said at a joint news conference after meeting Zebari, "On the other hand, we are expecting support from the international community and our neighbors in the struggle against terrorism." Babacan said rebel attacks left 42 people dead alone this month. But he rejected any offer of a cease-fire by the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is known by its Kurdish acronym PKK and operates from bases in the mountainous border area in northern Iraq. Cease-fires are "possible between states and regular forces," a stern-faced Babacan said. "The problem here is that we're dealing with a terrorist organization." The PKK has called on Turkey not to attack Iraq, claiming that a unilateral rebel cease-fire declared in June was still in place although it did not halt fighting. "The position of the PKK is that we have agreed to a cease-fire but when we are attacked by the Turkish troops we will hit back," rebel spokesman Abdul-Rahman al-Chadarchi told The Associated Press on Tuesday. He also confirmed that the rebels were holding eight Turkish soldiers captive and promised to treat them with respect, although he said it was "premature" to discuss conditions for their release. "When they were attacking us, they were our enemies but now they are helpless captives whom we will take care of," al-Chadarchi said. "When the Turkish government asks for them, we can talk about conditions." Turkish officials said the search was continuing for soldiers from Sunday's attack and would not comment on the rebels' claims. If confirmed, the seizure would be the largest since 1995, when guerrillas grabbed eight soldiers and took them to northern Iraq before releasing them two years later. "I'm optimistic, but the crisis is complex and grave." said Zebari, who said he was still hoping that ongoing diplomatic efforts would stave off any Turkish incursion. He said a threat to the stability of Iraq's Kurdish north would have "dangerous consequences," but stressed that Turkey had "legitimate concerns." Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd, told reporters after meeting with Babacan later that his country had asked the PKK to stop its military attacks or leave the country. He made no mention of the PKK cease-fire he announced Monday. But Babacan expressed frustration, saying after his talk with Zebari that US and Iraqi authorities had promised to deal with the rebels in the past to no avail. "The problem did not go away but the problem got worse. Right now, Turkey as a whole is very annoyed and concerned about what is going on and the public reaction in Turkey is huge," he said. Respect for Iraq's territorial integrity and Turkey's fight against terrorism are principles that don't conflict with each other, Babacan said. Babacan has said Turkey will pursue diplomacy before sending in its military, but the buildup of troops along its border with Iraq continued with military helicopters airlifting commando units into the area overnight." Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, also was quoted Tuesday in the country's leading daily Hurriyet as saying that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had talked of a possible joint US-Turkish operation against the rebels during a telephone call Sunday. Neither Babacan or Zebari mentioned the report and the US military said it was not aware of such plans.

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