Turks seem set for long stay in Iraqi Kurdistan

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In the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, there is little sign of the 35,000 Turkish soldiers pulling back from the swath of territory which they captured in an offensive last week.

Contrary to assurances from Turkish officials that the force would be out of Iraq in a matter of weeks, Turkish commandos backed by heavy armour and artillery look as if they are preparing for a longer stay.

A tour of Turkish bases and camps by military helicopter - the first time the Turks have agreed to allow access to their military positions in Iraq - shows that the Turkish army is in full control.

But the 2,000 PKK guerrillas, the Turkish Kurd separatists whom the Turks say they want to root out, appear to have retreated south after offering minimal resistance. The Turkish army says it has killed 182 rebels but, unlike previous forays, has not put the bodies on display.

Although PKK camps were often in natural fortresses surrounded by mountains, or down narrow gorges overlooked by walls of rock, none was defended to the last.

In the narrow Pirbella Valley 20 miles from the Turkish border, there are squadrons of heavy tanks and supporting infantry every few miles. But the local Turkish commander says that in capturing two PKK camps, his men killed only two guerrillas and another surrendered.

A Turkish soldier said: "Before the 20 days, they [the PKK guerrillas] knew everything so they went away."

The problem for the Turkish army is that if they now retreat, as they did once before in 1992, the PKK will certainly return. Renewed guerrilla attacks would disappoint expectations raised by Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller that the operation across the Iraqi border would finally crush the Kurdish rebels.

A military spokesman said only: "As soon as we complete our operation we will return to our borders."

Much of the area which Turkey has occupied is scantily inhabited because it is high in the mountains and many of the Kurdish villages were destroyed in the 1980s by the Iraqi army. But where there are Kurdish farmers, it is unclear how the Turkish army will distinguish between Iraqi and Turkish Kurds.

This makes it difficult for the Turks to end the operation by rooting out the PKK, who have blended into the local population or moved temporarily south beyond the Turkish line.

Kurds melt away, page 11

Crying out for equality, page 15

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