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 Turkey confirms its troops withdrawn from Iraqi Kurdistan, says objectives achieved

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Turkey confirms its troops withdrawn from Iraqi Kurdistan, says objectives achieved  29.2.2008

Turkey will continue to "closely watch" PKK activities in northern Iraq and "will not allow threats to Turkey from this region,"

February 29, 2008

ANKARA, -- The Turkish army ended its week-old ground offensive against Turkish Kurdish PKK rebels in Iraqi Kurdistan region on Friday, saying its forces had pulled out after achieving their objectives.

The withdrawal followed strong US pressure on its NATO ally to wrap up the incursion against the Turkey's separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), launched late on February 21.

"The objectives set at the start of the operation have been achieved and our forces... returned to their home bases as of Friday morning," a statement from the military general staff said.    

Turkish soldiers prepare for a patrol on a road near the Turkey-Iraq border in the mainly Kurdish southeastern province of Sirnak on February 28. Turkey has ended its cross-border offensive against Kurdish PKK rebels in Iraqi Kurdistan region and already begun withdrawing troops, the Turkish NTV news channel has reported.
At least 240 PKK militants were killed and dozens of rebel hideouts, logistics bases and ammunition depots destroyed, it said, putting the army losses at 27 men.

The PKK "was shown that northern Iraq is not a safe region for them," the statement said.

Television footage showed dozens of military trucks loaded with soldiers crossing into Turkey from the border town of Cukurca, while empty vehicles climbed mountainous roads in the opposition direction.

US President George W. Bush had urged the Turkish army on Thursday to leave Kurdistan region of northern Iraq "as quickly as possible" and Defence Secretary Robert Gates personally put pressure on Turkish leaders during a series of meetings in Ankara.

The military, however, insisted the withdrawal decision was made "under no external or internal influence."

It said some forces had already returned home before Friday "in line with the original planning."

Turkey will continue to "closely watch" PKK activities in northern Iraq and "will not allow threats to Turkey from this region," the statement said.

"The struggle against terrorism will be pursued with determination at home and abroad," it said.

The United States, which also labels the PKK a terrorist group, supported its NATO ally during the incursion with intelligence on PKK movements.

But Washington had been concerned that a prolonged incursion could escalate into a broader conflict between Turkish forces and the Iraqi Kurds, who run the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq and are staunch US supporters.

Turkey has long accused Iraqi Kurdistan of providing the PKK with safe haven and weapons, and warned them not to shelter rebels fleeing the fighting. Kurdish authorities in Kurdistan region strongly reject the claim.

The most intensive air raids and ground assaults during the incursion targeted the mountainous regions of Zap and Hakurk, near the Turkish border, where the PKK has some of its largest camps.

The Qandil mountains further east along the Iraqi Kurdistan-Iranian border are also a major PKK stronghold.

The PKK has claimed to have killed around 100 soldiers, lost five and to have downed a Turkish attack helicopter during the incursion.

Ankara had repeatedly refused to commit itself to a pullout timetable.

Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul said after talks with Gates on Thursday that Turkey would remain in northern Iraq "as long as necessary."

Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish state in the south east of the country, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous Kurdish region and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million. A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.

PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey, reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The PKK is considered as 'terrorist' organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list. 

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