Turkey battles Kurdish rebels
Istanbul — Turkey seems determined to fight vigorously against Kurdish rebels who have stepped up their attacks in the Turkish provinces that border Iraq. This week the Turkish Army launched a campaign, called Operation Sun, to weed out the insurgents. The operation is centered in the Hakkari region, where the Kurdish guerrillas have killed eight Turkish soldiers, bringing to 20 the total number of Turkish soldiers killed in the area.
Prime Minister Turgut Ozal told parliament Wednesday that 10 Kurdish guerrillas have been killed.
Troop reinforcements have been sent to the region, including commandos trained for guerrilla warfare in rugged and mountainous areas. Strong security measures have been taken along the borders with Iraq, Iran, and Syria to prevent the escape of the insurgents, who have been using hit-and-run tactics. As a result of these measures, Turkish troops have been able to kill some of the terrorists and capture others.
Over the past few weeks the Kurdish attacks on Turkish troops and Army installations have taken on unprecedented proportions. The Turkish authorities have come to realize that the activity is part of a well-organized campaign with a definite goal: to launch a separatist movement in southeastern Turkey, to impress and obtain the support of the local Kurdish population, and to weaken the state's (and the Army's) authority there.
Most of the armed men, estimated at about a few hundred, have infiltrated from Iraq, where Kurdish rebels there provide instructions and logistics, officials say. Some of the Turkish Kurdish rebels, including those captured recently, have been trained in guerrilla camps in Syria.
Turkish intelligence reports say that the rebels have been supported not only by Kurdish organizations in Iraq, Iran, and Syria, but also by Armenian militants belonging to the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, who have been cooperating and fighting with them.
Prime Minister Ozal told parliament Wednesday that the attacks have been organized and encouraged by the underground Turkish Communist Party, which is pro-Soviet and has its headquarters in Eastern Europe. He said the Kurdish militants have been trained in ''Palestinian camps'' together with other terrorists of different nationalities, including the Armenians.
The Turkish Army has been prompt and severe in its reaction to the attacks. All sensitive areas are now under heavy military control, and, in addition to mopping-up operations, house-to-house searches are conducted.
Many arrests have been made but other insurgents are still said to be hiding in the mountains and caves of the rugged region, while others might have escaped to Iraq.
Turkish officials say that the terrorists have been encouraged by the lack of state authority created in northern Iraq when the Iraqi government sent troops from that area to the battle front with Iran. They see the Kurdish armed action against Turkish targets as a byproduct of the continued war betwen Iran and Iraq. On several occasions Turkey has tried unsuccessfully to stop the war through mediation.
Foreign Minister Vahit Halefoglu and Deputy Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozturun discussed the situation with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his aides in Baghdad this week. Ozal, in his speech, said the two officials reached ''agreement on principles'' on cooperation and coordination in intelligence and some joint action.
Last year Iraq allowed Turkey to conduct a mopping-up operation inside Iraqi territory. Turkish newspapers reported Wednesday that Turkish troops had gone up to 10 miles into Iraqi territory recently.
One source of concern for the Turks has been the inability of the Iraqis to control the Kurdish guerrillas operating against Turkey.
Turkey has been trying to maintain strict neutrality in the Iran-Iraq war and to develop ties with both countries. Turkish observers fear that tension over the borders due to the Kurdish attacks might damage Ankara's ties with either of these neighboring countries and upset the delicate political balance in the area.