Turkey launches offensive on PKK

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A TURKISH election candidate was abducted from his home by Kurdish rebels as thousands of Turkish troops swept through northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish guerrillas.

As tension rose, the captured rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan urged his Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) to lay down its arms until after the polls.

Some 5,000 troops backed by Cobra helicopters and F-16 fighters poured into the Kurdish-controlled enclave last week to attack PKK bases there.

Forty-four guerrillas were killed and 15 taken alive. PKK arms and ammunition were captured, including two Russian-made surface-to-air rockets. Ten Turkish soldiers died in the fighting.

"A new grouping of the PKK was spotted over there, on the Iraqi side," the Turkish Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, said yesterday.

"So, naturally enough, measures are being taken against that. These operations will continue from time to time until we achieve a result." Military officials refused to confirm reports that the latest operation had ended.

Six guerrillas and two soldiers were killed in separate clashes in the Turkish provinces of Tunceli and Batman.

The PKK has carried out a 14-year campaign of violence and terror to win Kurdish autonomy in south-east Turkey. Ankara frequently sends troops into the mountains of northern Iraq to hunt down the guerrillas, especially in spring, when the snow clears.

But this latest incursion was almost certainly prompted by a drastic upsurge in PKK violence. Bomb attacks have swept the country as the PKK steps up its campaign of terror in the wake of Mr Ocalan's capture. In the worst, 13 people died when an Istanbul shopping centre was firebombed.

A parliamentarian is believed to have been kidnapped by the PKK. According to the semi-official Anatolia News Agency, Osman Dara and his brother were snatched from Mr Dara's home near the Iranian and Iraqi borders by suspected PKK guerrillas on Friday night. Two other relatives who were abducted have since been released. Local police were unable to comment.

The PKK has declared it will attack tourist destinations and warned holidaymakers to stay away. The Association of Turkish Travel Agencies says 200,000 European tourists have cancelled trips to Turkey since Mr Ocalan was captured.

On Saturday the Kurdish leader released a statement through his lawyers urging the PKK to call a temporary ceasefire. "At least until the attitude of the new parliament and government are seen, a political policy based on social peace, forgiveness and brotherhood must be adopted," he said.

Mr Ocalan is awaiting a trial due to start on 30 April on a Turkish prison island. Authorities hold him responsible for the deaths of 30,000 in the fighting between the PKK and security forces. Increased PKK violence has been in contrast with statements from Mr Ocalan, who says he intends to base his defence on a series of unilateral PKK ceasefires ignored by the Turkish government. He says he now wants to negotiate a political settlement. Turkish authorities say they will never negotiate with him. Kurds are denied recognition as a minority in Turkey. Kurdish-language broadcasting is illegal and the language cannot be taught in schools.

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