60 die as Kurds and Turks clash

MORE THAN 50 rebels and 10 Turkish soldiers were killed yesterday in the biggest battle yet of Turkey's eight-year-old Kurdish insurgency.

The battle raged for 10 hours 20km (12 miles) north of the Iraqi border at the remote Iranian- Turkish border post of Alan. Turkish officials said the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) attacked a gendarmerie outpost with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades after crossing the border from Iran. Turkish radio said 100 rebels may have died.

Turkey has accused Syria, Iraq and Iran of encouraging the PKK. If previous patterns are followed, its minimum first response is likely to be air attacks on the Kurdish 'safe haven' enclave in northern Iraq where the PKK has bases in the rugged mountains where the Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi borders meet. Troops have been massing in south-east Turkey and warplanes flying reconnaissance missions along the border for days. Even before yesterday's fighting, Turkish newspapers had been predicting a big land and air operation into Iraq against the PKK.

Turkey's political and military leaders met last week in the Kurdish regional capital of Diyarbakir to underline their determination to stamp out the organisation, which has demanded an independent Kurdish state for the Middle East's 20 million Kurds, more than half of whom live in Turkey. The two main Iraqi Kurdish leaders, Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, have arrived in the Turkish capital for talks.

The Marxist PKK has accused the two more conservative leaders of co-operating with Turkey against them. For his part, the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, denied in an interview published yesterday that he was being supported by Saddam Hussein to weaken the Turkish link in the Western alliance.

The Turkish position is hardening as Kurdish rebels spread their struggle into the big cities after several murderous months in the south-east, where about 5,000 people have been killed since August 1984, when the PKK started its armed separatist campaign.

Since Friday the press has blamed the PKK for machine- gunning a Turkish airliner, for an arson attack that burned out an Istanbul ferry, and bombings that included a small explosion outside the British consulate in Istanbul. In Adana, a woman died and nine people were injured in an attack on a tennis club.

The Kurds, for their part, are angered by heavy-handed state tactics, denial of their Kurdish identity and unsolved murders of Kurdish nationalists. The latest person to die in more than 60 death squad-style killings in the past year was shot dead in Diyarbakir on Saturday. He was the brother of the local chief of HEP, the main legal pro-Kurdish party.

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