Turkish, US generals discuss Kurd rebels

Turkish and US commanders on Saturday discussed measures against Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq, while Turkey’s prime minister said the struggle against the separatists was at a “critical stage”.Turkish army chief, General Yasar Buyukanit, and the head of US forces in Europe, General Bantz Craddock, discussed “cooperation issues in the joint struggle against the PKK terrorist organisation, including intelligence sharing”, a Turkish army statement said.

It was the second meeting between top Turkish and US generals this week following US pledges to provide Turkey with real-time intelligence on the movement of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels.

PKK rebels use camps in neighbouring northern Iraq to launch attacks across the border.

The pledge, made by US President George W. Bush in early November, was largely seen as tacit US approval for limited cross-border Turkish strikes, notably air raids, against PKK targets.

“We have reached a very critical stage” against the PKK, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech at a meeting of his Justice and Development Party in Kizilcahamam, near Ankara.

“The terrorist organisation is besieged from all sides,” he said, adding that Ankara was employing a strategy combining military, political and diplomatic means with international support.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by much of the international community, has waged a bloody campaign for self-rule in southeast Turkey since. The1984 conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.

Erdogan said more efforts were needed to finish off the PKK, issuing a strong appeal for expanding the rights of the Kurdish community to erode support for separatism. “Let’s maintain pluralistic democracy and strengthen the climate of freedoms in order to secure the ultimate result in the struggle against terrorism… All experience shows that there is no other way out,” he said.

“Let’s look together for ways of winning over the people instead of alienating them,” he added. Faced with mounting PKK violence, the government obtained parliamentary authorisation last month for a military incursion into northern Iraq.

A PKK rebel was killed Saturday as part of an ongoing security sweep near the Iraqi border, Anatolia news agency reported. Keen to head off a large-scale Turkish cross-border operation, the United States and the Iraqi Kurds, who run northern Iraq, have agreed to step up measures to curb the PKK. But Erdogan has also faced mounting calls to back the military struggle with political, social and economic measures to boost the freedoms and the prosperity of the sizeable Kurdish community.

He stressed Saturday that Turkey should convince the Kurds to seek their rights through politics. “If we are to get rid of terrorism, this can become possible by keeping open the door of democratic politics as a way of solving problems and seeking rights,” he said.

Erdogan renewed an appeal to Turkey’s main Kurdish political movement, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), to sever alleged links with the PKK. “Those who fail to abide by democracy and law can never be accepted to talk tall about being victimised,” he said.

Turkey’s chief prosecutor last week asked the constitutional court to outlaw the DTP, arguing that the party, through its links with the PKK, had become “a hive of activity” targeting the country’s unity. The DTP holds 20 seats in the 550-member parliament. Under European Union pressure, Ankara has in recent years granted the Kurds a measure of cultural freedoms.

Activists, however, say the reforms are inadequate. They have called notably for a general amnesty for the PKK to encourage it to lay down arms, but Ankara has so far dismissed the proposal.

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