Kurdish leader 'murdered in Syria'

THE Turkish government said yesterday it was checking newspaper reports that the Syrian-based Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the PKK Kurdish rebels fighting the Turkish army, had been murdered. 'These reports that he was either killed or wounded also reached us. But, it was not possible to confirm them,' Nahit Mentese, the Interior Minister, told state television.

Mr Ocalan has lived in Syria since 1980, and Turkey has been pressing Damascus to withdraw support for the PKK (Kurdish Workers' Party). In the spring he announced a unilateral ceasefire, but since it broke down in the early summer bloody clashes have occurred between the PKK and Turkish forces, in which scores of non-combatants have been killed or wounded.

The PKK has tried to draw attention to its struggle through two waves of co- ordinated bomb attacks across Europe this year. In recent weeks, Turkish aircraft have attacked what Turkey considered PKK bases inside Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

The different Kurdish factions in northern Iraq, in the 'safe haven' set up by the Western-led coalition after the Gulf war, have engaged in internecine conflict over the past week. Yesterday, the Turkish parliament voted to allow Western warplanes policing the no-fly zone to continue to use Turkish airbases for another six months. Heavy fighting raged yesterday around Irbil, the regional capital, between members of Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish groups, and the smaller Islamic Movement of Kurdistan.

The government-controlled press in Baghdad has gloated over these signs that the anti-regime opposition is divided among itself.

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