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Turkish troops head toward Iraq after rebel Kurd ambush leaves 8 soldiers missing, 12 dead

Turkish troops head toward Iraq after rebel Kurd ambush leaves 8 soldiers missing, 12 dead

Dozens of Turkish military vehicles loaded with soldiers and heavy weapons have rumbled toward the Iraqi border after an ambush by rebel Kurds that left eight soldiers missing and 12 dead. Turkey's foreign minister said his country will pursue diplomacy before it sends troops across the rugged frontier.
The military said Monday that it had had no contact with the eight soldiers after Sunday's clash and said 34 guerrillas had been killed so far in a counteroffensive. A pro-Kurdish news agency said the eight were captured _ a claim that would make it the largest seizure since 1995, when guerrillas grabbed eight soldiers and took them to northern Iraq.
A senior rebel commander, Bahoz Erdal, said the soldiers were in rebel hands, the pro-Kurdish Firat News Agency reported.
"Right now, these soldiers are hostages in the hands of our forces," Firat quoted Erdal as saying. "Their health condition is good. One of them was slightly injured but was being taken care of by our medics."
Erdal said the families of soldiers should not worry about the fate of their sons.
"We have not harmed them and we will not," Erdal said.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said Monday that Kurdish rebels will announce a cease-fire later in the day, according to his office. Kurdish rebels last declared a cease-fire in June and the rebel group said Monday that that cease-fire was still in place, the Firat News Agency reported. The cease-fire announcement in June did not halt fighting.
"We have not officially ended the cease-fire," the group said in a statement in response to Talabani, Firat News reported. "We're stating clearly that if the Turkish state stops its attacks then increased tensions will be replaced with a clash-free environment."
However, the rebel group said it was determined to defend itself against Turkish attacks.
"We are calling on Turkey to give up a risky adventure and give a positive response to our peaceful and democratic initiatives for the solution of the problem," the rebel group said.
Turkey has rejected several past unilateral cease-fires declared by rebels, saying it would keep fighting until all rebels surrender or are killed. In the past, rebels have pressed ahead with attacks despite cease-fires on grounds that they were defending themselves.
Sunday's ambush outraged an already frustrated public. Demonstrations erupted across the country and opposition leaders called for an immediate strike against rebel bases in Iraq, despite appeals for restraint from Iraq, the U.S. and European leaders.
In Washington, the State Department said the United States had opened an all-out diplomatic push to urge Turkey not to invade northern Iraq. U.S. President George W. Bush spoke with both Iraq's prime minister and Turkey's president.
"In our view, there are better ways to deal with this issue," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, stressing that the United States regards the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a telephone conversation on Sunday night that Turkey expected "speedy steps from the U.S." in cracking down on Kurdish rebels and that Rice, who called the Turkish leader, asked "for a few days" from him.
McCormack did not dispute the account of the conversation but declined to comment on what Rice had meant by asking for "a few days."
Erdogan did not specify what he meant by "speedy steps," but he has often urged the United States and Iraq to crack down on the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Turkish leaders say it is the responsibility of those countries to do whatever is necessary to destroy the guerrilla group's bases in northern Iraq.
"We will continue these diplomatic efforts with all good intentions to solve this problem caused by a terrorist organization," Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told reporters in Kuwait. "But in the end, if we do not reach any results, there are other means we might have to use."
The last major kidnapping was in 1995, when Kurdish guerrillas grabbed eight soldiers and took them to bases in northern Iraq. The rebels released the soldiers two years later.
An AP Television News cameraman saw a convoy of 50 military vehicles, loaded with soldiers and weapons, heading from the southeastern town of Sirnak toward Uludere, closer to the border with Iraq.
It was unclear whether the vehicles were being sent to reinforce troops engaged in fighting with rebels on Turkish soil or were preparing for possible cross-border action. Tens of thousands of Turkish troops are already deployed in the border area.
Thousands of flag-waving Turks protested the rebel attacks across the country, chanting slogans in support of the soldiers.
Turkey's military said Sunday it had launched an offensive backed by helicopter gunships in retaliation for the attack, shelling rebel positions along the border.
The rebel attack occurred four days after Parliament authorized the government to deploy troops across the border in Iraq, amid growing anger in Turkey at perceived U.S. and Iraqi failure to live up to pledges to crack down on the PKK.
Sunday's attack raised the death toll of soldiers in PKK attacks in the past two weeks to around 30.
Rebels periodically cross the border to stage attacks in their war for autonomy for Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast. More than 30,000 people have died in the conflict that began in 1984.
On Monday, two suspected Kurdish rebel bombers were detained crossing into Turkey from the Habur border point, private Dogan news agency said.
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Associated Press Writers Suzan Fraser and Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-18 04:11 GMT+08:00