Kurds evade Turkish troops

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The Independent Online

Diyarbakir - Turkish aircraft pounded Kurdish rebel camps along a 185- mile front inside northern Iraq for the second day running yesterday, and ground forces advanced in pursuit of separatist guerrillas. But despite the huge number of Turkish troops involved, there were signs that the Kurds were evading their pursuers.

Colonel Dogu Silahcioglu, a Turkish army spokesman, said that at least 24 members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) had been killed, and eight Turkish soldiers were dead. That figure contrasted sharply with one of 200 rebels killed and no Turkish casualties given yesterday by the Turkish Defence Minister, Mehmet Golhan.

"The aim is to cause as much destruction as possible," said one military official, summing up the operation which started before dawn on Monday. In Silopi, near the Iraqi border, the mission commander told reporters his men had secured a swath of Iraqi territory 185 miles wide and more than 20 miles deep.

Lieutenant-General Hasan Kundakci said the troops met light resistance on Monday, but then proceeded virtually unhindered. He said Turkish air strikes flattened the Bote camp, more than 60 miles south of the Turkish border, near Iran.

General Kundakci said the operation was aimed at four sectors, containing more than 20 suspected PKK camps. Diplomats and military analysts in Ankara, however, said much of the surprise element had been lost by the lengthy troop build-up, giving well-trained PKK rebels time to slip away.

"They [the Turkish military] are not always so careful at distinguishing between PKK fighter and refugees," said one Western military analyst. "The actual rebels may have just melted away. They certainly had time."

In Geneva, the United Nations expressed concern about Kurdish refugees, saying it was investigating reports from the Iraqi town of Zakho that Turkish forces had rounded up Kurds and taken them forcibly back into Turkey. A spokesman for Turkey's oreign Ministry denied the reports.