"49 killed" during Turkish army incursion northern Iraq

Türkiye Materials 23 February 2008 18:48 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Fighting between Turkish troops and Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) fighters in northern Iraq has left at least 44 PKK fighters and five Turkish soldiers dead, according to the Turkish general staff late Friday as the operation continued Saturday.

It declined to say exactly where the clashes had taken place, but said the military operation - which Turkish media said involved some 10,000 troops - was going "as planned".

Turkish media reported the air force was backing the offensive with F-16 fighters. The initial targets were PKK positions some 20 kilometres behind the border, where up to 1,000 rebels were believed to be.

The attacks caused international concern, with UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon calling for the greatest possible restraint and respect for the international border between Iraq and Turkey.

At the same time he called on the PKK to stop their terrorist attacks on Turkish territory.

The Autonomous Region of Kurdistan Saturday blamed the US for the incursion and called on Turkey to withdraw its troops from the area, a spokesman for the Kurdish Prime Minister's office said.

"The US administration is responsible for all the Turkish attacks that breached the Iraqi sovereignty and has to stop all the military operations taking place. Without the US, Turkey would not have made such violations," Fallah Moustafa told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Turkey's NTV private television station reported Friday that 10,000 troops had crossed the border and by midday Friday had reached 10 kilometres inside Iraq.

"This operation's target is the PKK terrorist organization. It is a continuity of the air operations that have been carried out. Civilians and local elements who do not show hostility to Turkish forces will not be negatively affected by this operation," the statement said.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation had no ulterior motives. "The target, aim, content and the boundaries of the operation are clear. The only target is the PKK camps in northern Iraq," he said.

The European Union's chief diplomat Javier Solana Friday expressed concern over Turkey's incursion, saying it was "not the best answer." The German Foreign Ministry also said it was worried about a possible escalation.

The United States urged Turkey to limit the scope of its military incursion after receiving advance warning from Ankara of the plans to go after the Kurdish PKK separatists, the White House said Friday.