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Turkey sending military observers to Kirkuk

As the Kurdish fighters take control of oil rich Kirkuk town in north Iraq, Turkey is sending military observers.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2003 20:00 IST

Turkey is sending military observers to the oil rich city of Kirkuk with US approval following an Iraqi Kurdish move into the city, Turkey's foreign minister said Thursday. Turkey has repeatedly said that it will not accept Iraqi Kurdish control of Kirkuk.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday. Powell said that U.S. paratroopers would move shortly into the city and he offered to let Turkey send military observers to Kirkuk to make sure that Iraqi Kurdish fighters withdraw from the city.

"There will ... be observers from the Turkish Armed Forces," Gul said. "This offer came from them, we've accepted." When asked whether Turkish ground troops would move into the area, Gul indicated that Turkey had no immediate plans to move into the region.

"Let's maintain our optimism, otherwise plans are ready for every option," Gul said.

Turkey has had several thousand troops in northern Iraq for the past few years fighting Turkish Kurdish rebels who have bases in northern Iraq not far from the Turkish border.

Gul said Powell assured Turkey that Iraqi Kurds would not keep control of Kirkuk. Gul said Iraqi Kurdish leaders had made similar pledges.

Turkey has in the past threatened to send its own forces into northern Iraq to prevent Kurdish control of Kirkuk. Washington has told Turkish officials that the capture of Kirkuk would be coordinated with coalition forces.

"We have reminded them of their guarantee," Gul told reporters. "We have told them that we are willing to contribute if they haven't got enough forces. They have said that they are sending new forces within a few hours and that Kurds will be withdrawn." "There is no reason for any concerns with these assurances," Gul said, adding that the head of Turkey's military, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, would speak later in the day with Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Turkey fears Iraqi Kurdish control of the resource rich area could encourage the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Turkey says an Iraqi Kurdish state could serve as an inspiration for Turkish Kurdish rebels who fought for autonomy for 15 years in southeastern Turkey.

Turkey's leaders have in the past indicated Turkey would deploy troops in northern Iraq if there were signs of a refugee crisis or if there were signs Iraqi Kurds were moving toward statehood. "We are following events very closely and (the Americans) are aware of that," Gul said.

The United States fears any unilateral Turkish incursion could lead to clashes between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey and even friendly fire incidents between the United States and Turkey.

First Published: Apr 10, 2003 20:00 IST