Iraq’s Kurd Rebels Vow to Keep up Fight

By Yahya Barzanji

KHUNERA (AP)–In the jagged mountains along the Iranian border–a leader of the Kurdish rebels–who have been battling Turkish soldiers for two decades–vowed to keep up his fight until Turkey agrees to open a dialogue with militants. But it remains a request that Turkey refuses–saying all the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) must surrender or die. Fighting has recently intensified.

Since May 30–soldiers and 24 rebels have been killed as the rebels stepped-up attacks–concentrating more on bombings than direct assaults. On Sunday–a bomb planted by a rebel splinter group injured 18 Turks and three tourists in Cesme–a popular Turkish resort.

Both sides are looking to Washington to help create a solution to a two-decade fight that has left some 37,000 people dead and parts of southeastern Turkey in ruins.

Turkish generals say the United States–which controls Iraq–must do more to stop rebels from crossing the border and carrying out attacks.

Murat Karayilan–the military leader of the PKK–says that Washington–which is pressing for more democracy in the Middle East–must allow the Kurds a voice and vows to keep fighting.

"We seek peace–but Turkey seeks war and wants our surrender," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It wants to get rid of us entirely. The Kurds’ resistance will continue."

He also said that the rebels–who were once fighting for a Marxist Kurdish state in the southeast of Turkey–now want to be part of a democracy.

"We want to live in a democratic way and establish a democratic Kurdish movement while giving up extremist socialist ideas," Karayilan said. "We also notice a change in American policies–which now support democratic governmen’s. America came to change the Middle East–and Kurds have a great role in this matter."

Turkish officials have dismissed that claim as a mere change in tactics by the group–which the Turkish government and the US consider a terrorist organization.

Turkish land forces commander–Gen. Yasar Buyukanit recently rebuffed a suggestion that the army end its offensive against the rebels.

"In Turkey–no one in their right mind could say yes" to that request–the Cumhuriyet newspaper quoted Buyukanit as saying last month. "Our struggle against terrorism is continuing and will continue."

Turkey considers all of its Muslim citizens to be Turks and has rejected Kurdish aspirations as an attempt to break apart the country. It was illegal in Turkey to speak Kurdish until 1991–and broadcasting in Kurdish only began in 2004.

Statemen’s from the rebels are rarely printed in Turkey–where such commen’s could be considered as aiding a terrorist organization–and rights activists have been jailed for saying that there should be a negotiated solution to the fighting in the southeast.

The PKK announced a unilateral cease-fire in 1999–shortly after its leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured but annulled it in 2004–saying that Turkey had not responded.

During a recent visit–Kurdish fighters escorted a journalist along a curvy–five-hour nighttime route to meet Karayilan. The visit included a stop at the PKK’s "Martyr’s Cemetery," which contains the graves of 25 fighters killed in battle and a large picture of Ocalan.

"We no longer believe only in armed struggle as we did in the past," Karayilan said. "Today we believe in the diplomatic and political struggle in order to obtain our legitimate rights."

The presence of an estimated 3,500 PKK fighters in Iraq–which effectively remains under US control more than two years after the U.S.-led invasion–complicates American efforts to rebuild this country after decades of dictatorship–war–and ongoing insurgency. It is believed that there are some 2,000 PKK fighters in Turkey.

Confident of the safety of their mountain redoubt–the PKK fighters seemed to enjoy good relations with local villagers and Iraqi arms merchants who sell them weapons. As a concession to Iraqi sensitivities–however–PKK fighters routinely move about only at night.

"We want to solve the problem through dialogue," Karayilan said. "But if they attack us–we will defend ourselves."

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