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Turkey, Iraq Try to Defuse Crisis Over Rebel Attacks 


Senior Turkish and Iraqi officials held talks in Ankara Friday to try to defuse tensions over a growing crisis along their common border. Separatist Kurdish guerrillas, based in the mountains of northern Iraq, have been launching attacks across the border into southeastern Turkey, and the Turkish government is threatening to send its army into Iraq to stop the rebels. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from Ankara.

It's been a day of urgent diplomacy in Ankara - dark limousines arriving and security personnel standing guard, as defense and foreign ministers met to try to defuse the crisis between the two countries.

Separatist Kurdish guerrillas of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK, have infiltrated into southeastern Turkey from their bases in the rugged mountains of northern Iraq, and have launched deadly attacks in recent weeks. Turkey has massed troops along the border, carried out some air and artillery strikes and is threatening an all out cross-border assault against PKK bases, unless the Iraqi government takes matters in hand to stop the rebels.

Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari described the talks as "important."

Speaking to reporters, he said the initial results of the meetings were positive. So far, he said, "we're on the right path."

Turkish leaders from the president and prime minister on down have made it clear they want decisive action on the part of the Iraqi government, not just promises to rein in the guerrillas.

On Friday, Turkey's deputy prime minister, Cemil Cicek, said Turkey gave Iraqi officials a list of PKK leaders, and asked Iraq to hand them over.

Turkey has also said U.S. forces in Iraq should take action against the PKK strongholds. The U.S. and Turkey consider the PKK a terrorist organization, and Washington has strongly condemned the rebel attacks. The U.S. has also called on Baghdad to take action.

The PKK took up arms against the Turkish government in 1984 in its fight for Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey. Some 30,000 people have died in the conflict.

The European Union and the United States have urged Ankara to refrain from launching a military incursion into northern Iraq, fearing it would create chaos in what is now a relatively stable area. Turkish leaders have made it clear, however, their patience is running out.

Turkey will host a regional summit on Iraq next week in Istanbul and the PKK issue is certain to come up.

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