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Iran Confirms Clash with Turkish Kurd Rebels - 2004-07-07


Iran confirmed Wednesday that its troops had been clashing with Turkish Kurdish rebels. Iran's deputy interior minister, Ali Asghar Ahmadi, said at least two Iranian soldiers and eight rebels from the group called Kongra-Gel had died in the fighting.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Namik Tan told a news conference in Ankara that Iranian officials would be briefing their Turkish counterparts about the operations against the rebels during a joint security committee meeting to be held in the coming days.

Iranian officials say the fighting erupted on June 28 along the rugged mountains separating Iran from Eastern Turkey. Rebel Kongra-Gel sources said 16 Iranian soldiers and four rebels had died in the fighting, that was described by Turkish security officials as part of a "large scale" operation launched by the Iranian army.

The move comes just days before Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is to travel to Iran on a long postponed official visit. Relations between the formerly hostile neighbors have been warming in recent months. Both countries have large and rebellious Kurdish minorities. Both are deeply concerned that the broad autonomy enjoyed by Iraq's Kurds will refuel separatist sentiment among their own ethnic Kurd minorities.

Turkey has long been pressuring the United States to move against some Kongra-Gel rebels holed up in the mountains of Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. President Bush, during a trip to Turkey last month renewed pledges to help put the group, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, out of action. But Turkish leaders complain that the United States has yet to deliver on its promise.

Long known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K, the rebels fought a 15-year-long insurgency in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeastern provinces. They called off their campaign for Kurdish independence following the capture of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999.

But last month, Kongra-Gel, as the group is now known, announced that it was ending its five-year unilateral truce because the Turkish government had rejected their calls to negotiate a peace agreement. Clashes between Turkish forces and the rebels have steadily increased in recent weeks, despite calls from Kurdish political leaders for both sides to end the violence.

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