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Kurds condemn incursion

Turkish troops cross into northern Iraq in the latest in a series of small-scale raids against Kurdish separatists over recent months.

world Updated: Dec 18, 2007 23:05 IST
Shamal Aqrawi

Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq overnight in the latest in a series of small-scale raids against Kurdish separatists over recent months, Iraqi and Turkish officials said on Tuesday.

A Turkish military official said the soldiers intervened when they spotted Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants across the border. There were no reports of any casualties from what he described as "a limited clash" with the separatists.

"Two PKK groups were spotted just across the border and it was determined that they were planning attacks and a battalion of soldiers intervened," the military official said.

Iraqi officials denied there had been clashes and said the group of about 300 Turkish troops had entered an unpopulated area near the border.

Turkey says it has a right to use force to combat separatist rebels who shelter in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. President Abdullah Gul said on Tuesday Turkey's only goal in northern Iraq was to combat the PKK threat.

"There are no other goals. Iraq is Turkey's neighbour and we want to save the Iraqis from this trouble of terror," Gul was quoted as saying by state news agency Anatolian.

Turkey's centre-right government and military are under public pressure to take action after a series of deadly PKK attacks on Turkish security forces in recent months. Turkey blames Iraq for failing rein in the PKK, and the United States for failing to apply pressure on Iraqi authorities.

Turkey has massed 100,000 troops on the border, and over the past several months has shelled and bombed Iraqi villages and launched occasional cross-border raids with small ground units.

"We condemn this incursion. Turkey wants to transfer the problem onto the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan," said Fouad Hussein, head of the office of Kurdistan's regional presidency.

Jabbar Yawar, spokesman for Iraqi Kurdistan's Peshmerga security forces said the Turkish force had entered on foot, carrying only light weapons, in Dahuk, one of three mountainous Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq.

A senior Iraqi military official who asked not to be named said the incursion appeared unlikely to develop into larger military action: "I think this is a limited incursion and will not be expanded," the source said.

Turkish warplanes bombed villages in northern Iraq over the weekend. Iraq complained that at least one civilian woman was killed in the weekend strikes, and has said it wants any future military action to be coordinated with Baghdad.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday that Turkish bombardment of northern Iraqi villages since the weekend had forced 1,800 people to leave their homes.