Turkish forces close in on Kurdish rebel camp in northern Iraq

Türkiye Materials 27 February 2008 12:21 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Turkish forces were on Wednesday poised to take a major Kurdish camp in northern Iraq, Turkish media reported, with commandos backed by helicopter gunships within one kilometre of a base in the Zap valley.

Turkish newspapers reported that troops had taken control of all routes in and out of the camp that has been used by the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) as a major staging post for attacks inside Turkey.

Hurriyet newspaper reported that PKK fighters were attempting to leave the camp and escape to higher ground.

The Turkish General Staff on Tuesday said heavy snow falls had forced a partial halt of ground troops in northern Iraq but that artillery barrages and airstrikes on suspected PKK positions were continuing.

According to a statement posted on its website, 19 Turkish soldiers have been killed since the operation was launched on Thursday night. A total of 153 PKK fighters had been killed. The PKK has refused to accept the numbers given by the Turkish military.

Up to 10,000 Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq on Thursday 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.

Turkey has repeatedly stated that the sole target of the operation is the PKK and that its troops will return to Turkey in the shortest possible time.

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

A delegation of Turkish officials was expected in Baghdad on Wednesday to explain Turkey's position.

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