Syria warned over backing for Kurds

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The Independent Online
THE PRIME Minister of Turkey, Mesut Yilmaz, yesterday warn- ed Syria to stop supporting Turkish Kurd rebels in a tense row between Turkey and its estranged southern neighbour.

"If Syria doesn't come to its senses, it's our duty to bring Syria's world tumbling down. We don't have our eyes on anyone's territory but we are obliged to poke out the eyes of those who are eyeing our territory," the Anatolian news agency quoted Yilmaz as saying.

Turkey accuses Syria of waging an "undeclared war" by backing Kurdish separatist guerrillas fighting for autonomy in the south-east over the past 14 years. Damascus denies the charge.

Turkish leaders have threatened military action if Syria does not hand over Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, widely thought to live in Damascus.

Syria denies helping Ocalan and has sought support from Arab countries, drawing on regional suspicions over informal military cooperation between Turkey and Israel.

Yilmaz accused Syria of prolonging the conflict between Turkish forces and the PKK. More than 28,000 people have died in the fighting.

"If Syria did not shelter the head of the bandits, if it did not set up camps and give money then it would not be possible for this separatist bandit to continue his path," he said at a ceremony to lay the foundations of a power plant. "Our primary duty is to uproot this bandit. We are determined to do this; we are sworn."

Yilmaz's stern warning was at odds with an apparent easing of the row after peacemaking missions by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Last week, following Mubarak's visit to Ankara, Yilmaz said Turkey was prepared to give diplomacy a last chance. As part of that diplomatic drive, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa was due to arrive in Ankara today, a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said.

The Turkey-Syria row, which surprised foreign governments with its suddenness and ferocity, has exposed the suspicion many Arab countries feel towards Turkey since Ankara struck up an informal military alliance with Israel.

Turkey's Foreign Minister has called for support from Arab countries. "We know the Arab people do not think that way and we know that many state leaders are opposed to the support Syria gives to terrorism," the Foreign Minister, Ismael Cem, said in a report in the Sabah newspaper yesterday. "We want (the Arabs) to behave in a way compatible with their responsibilities."

Turkish newspaper Cum- huriyet reported yesterday that explosions had been heard from inside Syria at military camps it said were being evacuated by PKK rebels. "It has been learned that some 3,000 PKK are escaping towards the Iraqi border. The explosions show their efforts to leave no traces behind," the paper said. Turkey's General Staff was unable to confirm the report, which a Syrian official called "fabricated and baseless".

The 22-member Arab group at the United Nations has expressed solidarity with Syria and rejected what it called Turkish threats to Damascus. The group called on Nato-member Turkey to exercise the utmost restraint.