Turkey squeezed by neighbors in fight against Kurdish rebels

Turkey is starting to feel the political fallout of its recent air raid on villages inside Iraq. Turkey claims that the villages are used as hideouts by Kurdish rebels fighting for separatism in Turkey's southeastern region. The Turks say their military action was a reprisal against a rebel attack near the Turkish-Iraqi border, in which 12 Turkish servicemen were killed.

The raid has been strongly condemned by neighboring Iran. A statement issued last week in Tehran asked Turkey ``to refrain from hindering the movement of combatant Iraqi Kurds against the present regime in Baghdad.'' (Iran, at war with Iraq for almost six years, would like nothing better than to see the Kurds add to the pressures on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.)

Last month, Libya's leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi, condemned the Turkish action as a practice similar to the policy pursued by the ``Zionists and the South African racists to destroy the Arabs and the black Africans.''

Syria, another neighboring country where Kurdish rebels are known to be trained, has so far refrained from reacting openly to the Turkish raid. But reports indicate that Syria's opinion of the Turkish raid is not different from that of Iran and Libya. Syrian President Hafez Assad and Colonel Qaddafi reportedly discussed it during their talks in Tripoli last week. The Iranian and Syrian foreign ministers are also said to have touched on this when they met a few days ago.

Turkish analysts say their nation now faces hostility from three so-called radical countries in the area -- Iran, Syria, and Libya.

``A solidarity among the three radical states against Ankara on this issue is obvious'' the popular daily Gunes reported. ``This is a significant development that could lead to a reevaluation of Turkey's policy and a stronger stand [against the three].''

The government's strategy seems to be aimed, at least at the moment, at avoiding a crisis in relations with those countries, while making it clear that it will pursue its military action against ``Kurdish terrorism.'' The government wants to make it clear that it will not tolerate any support from third countries to the rebels.

Turkey considers its estimated 8 million ethnic Kurds to be Turkish citizens and rejects any demands for autonomy or independece. The government is determined to carry on its fight against the rebels at any cost.

``We want these countries to understand our stand clearly and not to endanger our struggle against the separatists who are attacking our villages and military posts,'' said one government source here.

The feeling among officials here is that with Libya facing pressure from the United States, Iran preparing for a new offensive against Iraq, and Syria in need of the Turkish-controlled waters of the Euphrates River, the three will not be in a position to open ``a new front'' against Turkey in support of the Kurdish separatists.

Turkish Trade Minister Cahit Aral went to Libya recently in an effort to convince Qaddafi that Turkey's raids on Kurdish rebels -- even inside Iraq -- should not concern him. On his return, Mr. Aral said he thought Qaddafi understood Turkey's stand.

Foreign Minister Vahit Halefoglu left for Iran last Wednesday for talks with Iranian leaders, with the hope that they, too, would stop their anti-Turkish campaign.

Some of the militants fighting Iraq are also engaged in separatist activities and terrorism inside Turkey. Iran backs the Kurdish insurgents fighting Iraqi troops, and takes a dim view of Turkey's assaults on the Kurds. Thus, the Iranians see such Turkish operations inside Iraq as an indirect support to Saddam Hussein's regime. The Turks are at pains to explain that this is not the goal.

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