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Tensions High on Turkey-Iraq Border


Turkey is hosting an international conference on how best to stabilize Iraq despite being on an increasingly poor footing with its eastern neighbor. Ankara accuses Iraq of sheltering separatist Kurdish rebels and allowing them to carry out cross-border attacks against Turkey and has sent a clear warning it is ready to send its own army into northern Iraq to stop the rebel attacks. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir on the underlying causes of the border tensions and what it means for both Turks and Kurds.

Turkey has sent them -- into the hills and mountains of the southeast and along the border with northern Iraq. Its soldiers and armaments are poised to move, across the border whenever Ankara gives the word.

Clashes between the army and the rebels have been on the rise, inside Turkey and along the border, but the conflict goes back decades. More than 30,000 people have been killed since the Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK, began its fight for Kurdish autonomy in 1984.

Ankara and Washington have declared the PKK a terrorist organization and many in Turkey agree.

But for others, like Azize Yigit, the PKK is simply fighting for the rights of the ethnic Kurdish minority.

"People with children will understand how hard it is," she says. Two of her sons joined the PKK in the 1990s. Yigit blames the difficulties Kurds face in Turkey for their decision.

Her younger son, Farouk, was killed within months after he joined. She has not heard from her other son, Mehmet, but clings to the belief that he is still alive somewhere in the mountains.

Azize Yigit and others like her banded together to form Mothers of Peace, an organization of women whose sons and daughters have gone off to fight, have died or gone to prison.

Seventy-six-year-old Hanim Pence lost two sons in the conflict. "I want peace. I want a country where Kurds and Turks live together in peace, she says. "No more war, no more tears of the mothers."

The women say they want to prevent another generation from dying.

Same conflict; more deaths. This time it's Turkish soldiers, police, and civil servants killed in the fight with the PKK.

Ahmet Buyukburc lost a brother in the conflict and founded his own organization to honor those killed. "Our aim is to stop terrorism," he says, adding that it is the duty of all countries to say "no" to terrorism. Buyukburc believes the killing in Turkey will only stop when the PKK is routed. He says it's time the government takes tougher action. He believes a cross-border incursion to hit PKK bases in Iraq is long overdue.

Even in Diyarbakir in the heartland of the Turkey's Kurdish region - there are many who support military action; many who do not.

When Turkey celebrated the 84th anniversary of the founding of the Republic, there were parades like this one throughout the country.

Towns were awash in a sea of Turkish flags. Yet, even in places like the small town of Diyarbakir in the southeast, it was the military show of might that received the most applause.

Emotions are mixed and running high on the PKK issue and there has been increasing pressure on the Turkish government to give the military the go ahead to get tough, despite calls for restraint from the United States and Europe.

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