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 Turkish army stages tank exercises near Syria border

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Turkish army stages tank exercises near Syria border  2.8.2012  

The Turkish army stage a drill in Nusaybin province in Turkey's Kurdish region which neighbors Syria’s Kurdish city of Qamishli (Syrian Kurdistan). Photo: AA
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August 2, 2012

ISTANBUL,— Turkey's army staged tank exercises near the Syrian border on Wednesday, Turkish officials said, in a move highlighting Ankara's unease about security on the frontier, Reuters reported.

The exercises were held after a series of Turkish military deployments to the area prompted by the spiralling violence in the 17-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. There is no indication Turkish forces will cross the border.

About 25 tanks took part in the exercises in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province in the Kurdish region on southeastern Turkey, just 2 km (1 mile) from the Syrian border, state-run Anatolian news agency said, quoting Mardin's governor as saying they would last several days.

Nusaybin district official Murat Girgin, contacted by telephone, confirmed military exercises were underway in the area. He declined to elaborate.

The manoeuvres, overseen by local commanders, were conducted by the Mardin 70th Mechanised Brigade, Dogan news agency said.

The Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli is immediately across the border from Nusaybin. Ankara is concerned about reports that a Kurdish group linked to militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is exerting control in Kurdish areas of northern Syria.

NATO-member Turkey has warned any attack emanating from a PKK presence in Syrian Kurdistan (northern Syria) could give it reason to intervene. Ankara has repeatedly bombed and sent troops into semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq's north where the PKK has camps.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu raised the issue of the Syrian government's loss of control over territory with Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq's Kurdistan government, on Wednesday, the ministry said in a statement.

"Any attempt to exploit the power vacuum by any violent group or organisation will be considered as a common threat, which should be jointly addressed. The new Syria should be free of any terrorist and extremist group or organisation."

Ankara has often pressured northern Iraq's Kurdish rulers to take steps against the PKK.

The Syrian conflict was set to feature highly in the four-day meeting of Turkey's Supreme Military Council, which started on Wednesday. The council, chaired by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and bringing together senior commanders, meets twice yearly to discuss army promotions, retirements and expulsions.

The military manoeuvres coincided with intense clashes between the military and the PKK further east around the town of Semdinli, on the mountainous border with Iraq and Iran. Media reports said up to 40 PKK militants had been killed in fighting there over the past week.

In a separate clash in Diyarbakir province (Northern Kurdistan), two Turkish soldiers were killed in a firefight with PKK fighters on Wednesday near the town of Lice, security sources said.

The PKK has several times proposed peaceful solutions regarding Kurdish problem, Turkey has always refused saying that it will not negotiate with “terrorists”.

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.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous 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.

The PKK wants constitutional recognition for the Kurds, regional self-governance and Kurdish-language education in schools.

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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