Turkey’s Kurd Rebels Talk War as Iraq Conflict Looms

TUNCELI–TURKEY (Reuters)–Kurdish guerrillas threatened on Sunday to abandon peace and take up arms once again after 12 rebels died in clashes with the Turkish military earlier this week.

Turkey fears a return to violence in its troubled southeast–where more than 30,000 people have died in a conflict that has largely subsided since the 1999 capture of guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan. Most of the rebels have since withdrawn into northern Iraq.

NATO partner Turkey opposes a US-led attack on neighbor Iraq–saying it threatens to spark a return of Kurdish fighters now holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq–a largely autonomous region out of Baghdad’s control.

Thirteen people died–including a Turkish soldier–after government troops backed by helicopter gunships clashed on Wednesday with Kurdish guerrillas some 285 kilometers (177 miles) from the Iraqi border.

"A one-sided peace has little chance of success. We are seriously faced with the prospect of defending our freedom once again through war,” rebel group KADEK told the Europe-based Mezopotamya news agency–which is close to the rebels–in a written statement obtained by Reuters.

KADEK–also known as the PKK–said this week’s clashes–which raged for some 24 hours–occurred after Turkish troops attacked its positions in wooded–mountainous terrain close to the southeastern Turkish town of Lice.

"The operation in Lice amounts to a declaration of war by Turkey,” Osman Ocalan–Abdullah Ocalan’s brother and senior KADEK member–told the Kurdish satellite television channel Medya TV by telephone from northern Iraq over the weekend.

He also called on Ankara to allow lawyers access to his brother–the lone prisoner on a Turkish island. KADEK says authorities have barred lawyers from seeing the rebel commander for seven weeks–raising concern for his health.

Parliament last year passed laws bolstering the rights of Turkey’s estimated 12 million Kurds as Ankara chases membership in the European Union. EU officials have said most of the reforms have yet to be fully implemented.

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