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 Turkey says Syria's Assad supplying arms to Turkish Kurd rebels

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Turkey says Syria's Assad supplying arms to Turkish Kurd rebels  9.8.2012  

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu leaves after a meeting with unseen Myanmar Muslim leader Muhammed Yunus during a meeting in Ankara on July 30, 2012 Photo: Getty Images 
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August 9, 2012

ISTANBUL,— Turkey's foreign minister accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of arming a Kurdish militant group that has fought the Turkish state for decades, potentially exacerbating a conflict which has killed more than 40,000 people.

Clashes between the Turkish army and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants have intensified in recent weeks east of the border with Syria in southeast Turkey. Ankara is concerned the PKK is exploiting the chaos in Syria to expand its influence.

On Thursday suspected PKK militants ambushed a Turkish military bus in the western province of Izmir, killing a soldier and wounding at least 11 others.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkish media while travelling to Myanmar overnight that Assad had given weapons to the PKK, which has established a presence in the Kurdish towns of Kobane and Afrin in Syrian Kurdistan in northern Syria.

"Assad gave them weapons support. Yes - this is not a fantasy. It is true. We have taken necessary measures against this threat," news websites reported the minister as saying.

There was no immediate comment from Damascus. In an interview with a Turkish newspaper at the start of July, Assad denied that Syria had allowed the PKK to operate on Syrian territory close to the Turkish frontier.

Davutoglu's comments spelled out allegations previously made by lower-ranking Turkish officials.

Turkey suspects a major Syrian Kurdish movement, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), of having links with the PKK. Turkish analysts believe Assad let the PYD take control of security of some Kurdish towns in western Kurdistan (northern Syria) to prevent locals from joining the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Relations between Ankara and Damascus have deteriorated to lows unimaginable just a few years ago, when Turkey cultivated "good neighbourly relations" with Assad, easing border controls and taking part in joint military exercises.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is now one of Assad's harshest critics and has raised the possibility of military intervention in Syria if the PKK becomes a threat there.


Military defectors have set up FSA bases in southern Turkey, and some are trained and coordinated by Turkish, Qatari and Saudi officers operating from a secret "nerve centre" near the city of Adana, Gulf sources have told Reuters.

Davutoglu, the architect of Turkey's now defunct good neighbours policy, dismissed criticism that Turkey was unprepared for the situation in northern Syria.

"There is unnecessary panic. You can be sure we anticipated all this ... Turkey's power to influence in Syria has not been weakened in any place or in any incident," he said.

Asked about the growing influence of the PYD, Davutoglu said: "They are hoping to take advantage if Assad goes and there is a (power) vacuum. But they will not succeed."

The issue of granting autonomy to any region should only be considered once a new parliament has been elected, he said.

"But if an armed group gains control of a place before the people have elected a parliament, another armed group can take control of another place. This is what we don't want to see."

The PYD has warned Turkey not to interfere in the region and said it has nothing to fear.

In 1998, Ankara came close to war with Assad's father, then-President Hafez al-Assad, over the presence of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in Damascus and alleged Syrian support for PKK activities in western Kurdistan (northeastern Syria).

Hafez al-Assad took the threat seriously enough to evict Ocalan - who was shortly afterwards captured in Kenya by Turkish forces with probable U.S. support. Ocalan is serving a life sentence in an island prison south of Istanbul.

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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