Turkish Forces Deny Entering Iraq in Offensive Against Kurdish Rebels

Posted October 25th, 2011 at 3:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkey's military has denied that its tanks crossed the border into northern Iraq as part of an air and ground offensive against Kurdish rebels.

A statement posted Tuesday on the website of Turkey's chief of staff says Turkish tanks carried out maneuvers inside Turkey close to the border with Iraq, east of the southeastern town of Silopi. It said reports that the tanks crossed the border are not true.

Some earlier reports said Turkish forces crossed into northern Iraq in armored vehicles and were advancing toward a Kurdish militant camp in Iraq's Haftanin valley, about 20 kilometers from the Habur border post.

The incursion would be the latest phase of an extensive cross-border operation that began after last week's attack by the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, that killed 24 Turkish soldiers along the Iraqi border — the army's biggest losses since 1993.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed the chief of staff statement denying the border was crossed. He also denied a media report that the military had killed at least 1,000 militants in the operation, saying the figures are baseless.

Turkey's military on Saturday said it had killed 49 militants during two days of fighting in a valley on the Turkish side of the border.

The PKK has stepped up attacks against Turkish targets in recent months. Turkish forces have responded by increasing the number of airstrikes against suspected rebel bases in northern Iraq. Turkey has called on Iraq to stop the Kurdish rebels from attacking Turkey from Iraqi soil, saying its “patience is running out.”

Kurdish rebels have waged a campaign for autonomy in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast since 1984. The fighting has killed more than 40,000 people. Turkey, the United States and the European Union regard the PKK as a terrorist group.

The Turkish government has taken steps to address the demands of Kurds and other minorities for greater rights. Prime Minister Erdogan is pushing to amend the constitution, which was written in 1982 when Turkey was under military rule. But Kurdish leaders say an amended constitution should recognize the Kurds as a distinct element of the nation and grant them autonomy.