ANKARA (AFP)–Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Wednesday that Ankara is running out of patience with a safe haven that armed Turkish Kurd rebels enjoy in neighboring northern Iraq as the militants said they were ready to fight the Turkish army if it enters the region.
"We have a certain degree of tolerance for the moment–but we cannot continue like this much longer," Erdogan told reporters accompanying him on a trip to Mongolia–the daily Hurriyet reported.
"We must put the PKK problem behind us," he said–referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party–blacklisted as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.
The PKK responded with a threat to turn northern Iraq into a "quagmire" for the army if it launches cross-border operations to clean up on guerrilla camps there.
"We are prepared for a possible attack?We will make it fail and turn (northern Iraq) into a quagmire for the forces that will carry it out," a statement by the PKK’s military wing said.
The PKK–which has stepped up violence in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast over the past few months–took refuge in the mountains of northern Iraq after a unilateral ceasefire it declared in 1999 in its war with Ankara.
The militants began sneaking back into Turkey after they called off the truce in June 2004 on the grounds that Ankara’s reforms to expand Kurdish freedoms were inadequate.
The PKK statement was published on Wednesday on the Internet site of the Germany-based MHA news agency–which is close to the rebels and regularly publishes their statemen’s.
Erdogan argued that international law gives Turkey the right to make military incursions into northern Iraq in self-defense against the PKK if the Iraqi authorities fail to act.
"Turkey can conduct such an operation in line with international rules," the Milliyet newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying.
"No doubt–Turkey will do this after consulting the Iraqi authorities," he said. "But the time may come when it will do it without consulting. Why? Because this is an internationally recognized right."
Erdogan said he raised Turkey’s concerns with both US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari when he met them in June and May–respectively. He complained that Washington has failed to respond in kind to the support Ankara gave to US-led efforts against terrorism–particularly in Afghanistan–after the September 11 attacks–Milliyet reported.
"While Turkey has been so open (in its support)–the United States has yet to take the least action against PKK infiltrations into Turkey–except for intelligence-related efforts," Erdogan said.
On Tuesday–the Turkish army’s number two–General Ilker Basbug–said Washington had ordered the arrest of senior PKK commanders in Iraq.