Ecevit turns up heat on Iran

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SIMMERING TENSIONS across the mountainous border between Turkey and Iran yesterday looked close to boiling point. Two Turkish soldiers are reportedly under arrest in Iran, accused of deliberately violating the border.

Tehran is also demanding an apology over an alleged air raid, claiming that Turkish bombers attacked an Iranian military base, killing five people - an accusation denied by Ankara.

But Bulent Ecevit, Turkey's Prime Minister, yesterday turned on his accusers, demanding an end to Tehran's alleged support for the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in its struggle against the Turkish state. "We desire that Iran cease welcoming the PKK with open arms," he said.

Iran denies long-standing Turkish claims that it gives shelter to the guerrillas, although the allegation was backed by Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader now under sentence of death, in his testimony to a Turkish court last month.

"Iran has recently started replacing Syria to some extent," Mr Ecevit said yesterday.Ocalan directed his guerrillas from the safety of Damascus until forced out last year, after Turkish tanks had started massing on the Syrian border.

But there is no guarantee that the threat of force would be as effective against Iran, militarily stronger than Syria, and Mr Ecevit was careful to stress that Turkey is not contemplating any action.

The timing could not be worse for Iran, caught up in its own domestic troubles - a fact not lost on Mr Ecevit, who made some undiplomatic remarks at the height of the recent violence. But neither has fiery rhetoric been wanting from the Iranian side, with the Islamic Republic News Agency reporting a warning by the Foreign Ministry that "Turkey would eventually have to pay the cost for its unprovoked aggression."