'No timetable' for Turkey assault

BBC News, Feb. 27, 2008

A senior Turkish official has said there is no timetable for an end to military operations against Kurdish PKK separatists in northern Iraq.

Speaking after a meeting in Iraq's capital Baghdad, Ahmet Davutoglu said they would continue "until terrorist bases are eliminated".

But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the action was unacceptable and violated Iraq's sovereignty.

The US says it wants the offensive to end as soon as possible.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is due to visit Ankara and says he has already raised concerns at the highest levels.

Casualty figures

But Mr Davutoglu, chief foreign policy advisor of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters: "Our objective is clear. Our mission is clear and there is no timetable... until the terrorist bases are eliminated."

Mr Zebari, speaking at the news conference with Mr Davutoglu after the talks, said Iraq wanted an immediate withdrawal.

"We condemn the terrorists and the PKK, but we also condemn the violations of the sovereignty of Iraq at the same time and we have to be very clear on that," he said.

Mr Zebari, himself a Kurd, added that the Kurdish regional government had expressed willingness to work with Turkey "to eliminate the threat from the PKK".

The Turkish military has been attacking bases of PKK rebels, who want a homeland in south-east Turkey.

Following the latest clashes, the military said 77 rebels and five of its soldiers had been killed. It says 230 rebels and 24 soldiers have been killed since the offensive was launched on Thursday.

The PKK rebels say they have killed at least 81 Turkish soldiers. Neither report can be independently verified.

Intelligence help

Speaking to the BBC in Delhi before leaving for Turkey, Mr Gates said the Turkish military operation against PKK bases should be very short and very precisely targeted.

Then, he added, the Turks should withdraw back across the border.

"They cannot solve the PKK terrorist problem which is a very real one from the Turks' standpoint," he said.

"A lot of innocent Turks have been killed by these terrorists. But they can't solve that problem entirely by military means and they need to begin thinking about what they're going to do in the non-military arena."

He said the US had provided additional intelligence and reconnaissance help to Turkey, but would also be ready to offer non-military solutions to the problem.

More than 30,000 people have been killed since the PKK began their campaign in 1984.

Ankara says as many as 3,000 PKK members use northern Iraq as a safe haven.

The US, the EU and Turkey consider the PKK to be a terrorist organisation.

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