Syria agrees ban on Turkish rebels

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FEARS OF a new war in the Middle East have receded with the signing of an agreement by Turkey and Syria, ending a crisis between the two countries.

Tensions had been high this month since Turkey threatened military action if Syria did not end its alleged support for Kurdish rebels.

In a surprise capitulation, Syria agreed to Turkey's main demands in an agreement reached on Tuesday after two days of secret talks near the southern Turkish city of Adana. Syria pledged to close Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) camps on its territory, and to refuse entry to the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

The PKK is an armed organisation fighting for Kurdish autonomy in south- east Turkey. It has been locked in a bloody 14-year conflict with security forces in which it is claimed that more than 29,000 people have lost their lives.

Syria's backdown appears to be a triumph for aggression after Turkey built up troops along the Syrian border and threatened unspecified military action if Damascus did not comply with its demands. Turkish officials said the country's patience was exhausted after years of diplomatic attempts to end Syrian support for the PKK.

But credit for the agreement will also go to Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, who shuttled between Ankara and Damascus to bring the two sides to the negotiating table.

"We will carefully monitor Syria's implementation of this agreement," the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, said. "Syria's attitude is satisfactory at this stage. We expect this satisfactory approach to continue."

Turkish foreign ministry officials said that, provided Syria honoured the agreement, the crisis between the two countries was over.

Syria appears to have lost heavily under the deal. Its alleged support for the PKK has long been seen as a bargaining counter in its other disputes with Turkey, including a territorial claim to Turkey's Hatay province, ceded when Syria was under French protectorate, and a row over a series of Turkish dams on the Euphrates river that have reduced a much-needed source of water.

Under the agreement, Syria accepts that the PKK is a "terrorist organisation" and has banned it. A number of PKK members arrested in Syria will also be "brought to justice".

Turkey has accused Syria of harbouring Mr Ocalan in Damascus but on Tuesday the Turkish Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, announced that the PKK leader is now in Moscow. The Turkish press reported that a request for Mr Ocalan's extradition will be made to Russia.

Turkey has also accused Syria of allowing the PKK to establish training camps in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Most of Lebanon is under de facto Syrian control.

Turkey and Syria have agreed to hold future discussions with the Lebanese government but a Turkish foreign ministry official said a separate agreement with Lebanon was not likely to be necessary as Syria has undertaken not to allow PKK members to cross its territory, making it impossible for the PKK to launch attacks on Turkey from Lebanon.