Turkey rejects cease-fire by Kurdish rebels, forces mass on Iraqi border as tensions rise
BAGHDAD (AP) — Turkey’s foreign minister rejected any cease-fire by Kurdish rebels today 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.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, said Iraq’s central government and authorities in its Kurdish autonomous region in the north would work together to deny the rebels freedom of movement, funds and representative offices. He said a high-level political and military delegation would travel soon to Turkey.
Iraqi officials have been saying that guerrillas with the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is known by its Kurdish acronym PKK, were based in inaccessible mountainous areas of northern Iraq.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said there are several ways to fight terrorism and Ankara would use them when appropriate. The buildup of troops along Turkey’s border with Iraq, meanwhile, continued with military helicopters airlifting commando units into the area overnight.
The mix of diplomatic and military 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.
Britain has backed the United States in trying to keep Turkey from crossing into Iraq to attack the Kurdish rebels based there. The U.S. and others fear a Turkish attack could lead to widespread bloodshed in one of Iraq’s few relatively peaceful areas.
“We also don’t wish our historical and friendly ties with Iraq to be ruined because of a terrorist organization,” Babacan said at a joint news conference after meeting with Zebari.
“On the other hand, we are expecting support from international community and our neighbors in struggle against terrorism.”
Babacan said rebel attacks this month alone left 42 people dead.
But he rejected any offer of a cease-fire by the PKK.
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 today.
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.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd, told reporters after meeting with Babacan that his country had asked the PKK to stop its attacks or leave the country. He made no mention of the PKK cease-fire he announced Monday.
Zebari said a threat to the stability of Iraq’s Kurdish north would have “dangerous consequences,” but stressed that Turkey had “legitimate concerns.”
Zebari also 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 terrorists that Turkey is subjected to.”
Erdogan, speaking in London, refused to set a timetable for Turkish action, warning: “We can exercise this mandate at any time.”
Erdogan also was quoted today in the country’s leading daily Hurriyet as saying that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had talked of a possible joint U.S.-Turkish operation against the rebels during a telephone call Sunday.
Neither Babacan or Zebari mentioned the report and the U.S. military said it was not aware of such plans. Published in The Messenger 10.23.07