mardi 10 avril 2007


Turkey warns Iraq's Kurds over threat

By Vincent Boland in Ankara

Published: April 10 2007 03:00 Last updated: April 10 2007 03:00

Turkey warned Iraqi Kurdish leaders yesterday they would be "crushed" if they carried out a threat to stir up trouble among Turkish Kurds, as clashes with separatists in south-eastern Turkey claimed at least 20 lives.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, reacted angrily to weekend comments by Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. Mr Barzani has set off a political and media storm in Ankara with his threat to "interfere" in Turkey's restive Kurdish provinces if Ankara did not stop "interfering" in his region.

Mr Erdogan said Mr Barzani would "be crushed by his own words". The Iraqi Kurdish leadership, he said, was "making very serious mistakes, and the cost will be very heavy".

The threats and counter-threats mark a fresh low point in relations between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurdish leadership. A few weeks ago Mr Erdogan was tentatively suggesting that official contact be established between them.

But that idea was strongly rejected by the Turkish military. The military and civilian leadership in Ankara has also become frustrated at its inability to influence events in Iraq as the prospect of an independent Kurdistan, with its capital in the oil-rich, Kurdish-dominated city of Kirkuk, moves ever closer.

Now, amid a heavy build-up of Turkish forces along the country's border with Iraq, some diplomats said the poisoned atmosphere could hasten a long-threatened "incursion" into Iraqi territory by Turkish forces to target the PKK Kurdish separatist movement.

Any such incursion would be fiercely opposed by the US and by Iraq. Abdullah Gul, Turkey's foreign minister, tele- phoned Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, on Saturday to relay Turkey's concerns after Mr Barzani's remarks were broadcast on Al Arabiyah TV.

Ten Turkish soldiers and about the same number of PKK fighters have been killed in clashes in the past three days in Turkey's eastern provinces of Tunceli and Bingol. The death toll was the highest in several weeks. Turkey is home to an estimated 12m Kurds. Security forces and the PKK fought a 15-year civil war in the 1980s and 1990s that killed at least 35,000 people.

Some of Turkey's rhetoric towards the Iraqi Kurdish leadership is rooted in a febrile political atmosphere in Ankara ahead of the appointment next month of a new president, and a general election later this year.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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