Turkish PM Reports Fresh Turkish Incursion into Northern Iraq
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit confirmed Sunday that Turkish soldiers had crossed into northern Iraq to aid the two leading Kurdish factions in the area in their struggle against armed Kurdish rebels from Turkey.
Ecevit told the state-run TRT channel in a live interview that Turkish soldiers were providing "technical help" to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to fight the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
"The real struggle in the region is between the PUK and the PKK," Ecevit said.
"The PUK and the KDP are spearheading the combat against the PKK and we are trying to help them," he added.
For the past few months, the Jalal Talabani-led PUK, which controls a section of northern Iraq close to the border with Iran, has been fighting PKK rebels which it accuses of attacking its positions in a deliberate attempt to destabilize the Kurdish-held enclave.
The fighting comes after a long period of good relations between the PUK and the PKK, which has waged a 15-year armed campaign against Turkey for Kurdish self-rule in the country's southeast.
The PKK has been trying to find itself a safe haven since September 1999 when the group said it would stop fighting Ankara and withdraw from Turkish territory to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Most of the rebels are believed to have crossed into northern Iraq, which has been outside Baghdad's control since the 1991 Gulf War.
The KDP, led by Massoud Barzani, controls the strip of land near the Turkish border and often helps Turkey in its frequent cross-border operations in the region.
Ecevit did not say how many troops were taking part in the incursion or when it would end, but underlined that the clashes in northern Iraq was evidence that the "terrorist PKK was still in existence".
"The terrorists are armed and are just beyond our border. In other words, they are lying in ambush," Ecevit told TRT.
"We are taking the necessary measures, both in Turkey and abroad, against separatist terrorism in the framework of international legal rules," he added.
The powerful Turkish military has already played down the PKK's truce pledges as a "ploy" and has called on the rebels to either surrender or face the army.
While there has been no official statement on the size of Turkey's current cross-border operation, Turkish newspapers have reported that some 10,000 troops have penetrated deep into the mountains of northern Iraq.
But Turkish general staff denied the reports Sunday as being far from the truth.
The Turkish army regularly launches operations against the PKK in the north of Iraq which it says the rebels use as a springboard for attacks against Turkey.
The incursions draw strong criticism from Baghdad, which accuses Ankara of violating its territorial integrity.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Said al-Sahhaf called on the Arab League to intervene and ensure the "immediate withdrawal" of Turkish troops.
"The continuation of Turkish aggression against Iraqi territory represents a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty," Sahhaf said in a message to the league's Secretary General Esmat Abel Meguid -- ANKARA (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)