US defence secretary Gates meets Turkish leaders

Other News Materials 28 February 2008 13:30 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday told Turkish leaders in Ankara that Turkey should quickly wrap up its military incursion against Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.

In order to stop "terror," not just military but also economic and political initiatives must be made, he said.

Gates was quoted by CNN-Turk television as saying after talks with Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul that the Washington wanted the operation to be "short and precisely targeted".

Turkey has refused to give an exact date for the withdrawal of troops but has repeatedly said that the sole aim of the operation was Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) fighters based in northern Iraq.

With heavy fighting continuing Thursday in and around two Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) camps in mountainous northern Iraq, Gates was later scheduled to meet President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chief of General Staff Yasar Buyukyanit.

According to the Turkish military 230 PKK fighters, 24 Turkish soldiers and three state-employed village guards have been killed since Turkey launched "Operation Gunes" on the night of February 21.

Up to 10,000 Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq that night in an operation designed to destroy the PKK's ability to launch attacks inside Turkey. The Turkish military estimates there are between 4,000 to 5,000 PKK guerrillas based in the region.

Ankara blames the separatist group for the deaths of more than 32,000 people since the early 1980s when the PKK began its fight for independence or autonomy for the mainly Kurdish-populated south-east of Turkey.

Baghdad has said it sympathizes with Turkey concerning the PKK but that the incursion will not solve the problem, and has called on Ankara to call off the operation.

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.