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Iraqi Kurds Deny Supporting PKK Rebels in Turkey

Kurdish officials in northern Iraq reject recent accusations from Turkey's army chief that political groups in Iraqi Kurdistan are providing support for separatist rebels in Turkey. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

Turkey's chief of the army, General Yasar Buyukanit, was quoted Saturday as saying two main Kurdish political parties in Iraq support about 3,000 separatist rebels camped out along Iraq's border with Turkey.

Falah Bakir, director of the office of foreign relations of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, or KRG, flatly denies the allegation.

"KRG or the political parties of Kurdistan are not providing support to the PKK," said Falah Bakir.

He was referring to the Kurdish Worker's Party, known as PKK, a recognized terrorist group.

Kurdish officials in Iraq acknowledge PKK rebels are stationed along Iraq's northern border with Iran and Turkey, but they say the area has long been outside the control of any government.

Fuad Hussein is a spokesman for the President of Iraq's Autonomous Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani.

"The border area is a difficult, remote area," said Fuad Hussein. "The Iranian government cannot control that border. The Iraqi government, even during Saddam, could not control that area. The Turkish government cannot control that area."

Turkey's military has long accused Iraqi Kurds of supporting the PKK, which has conducted a violent separatist campaign in Turkey since 1984 that has killed more than 30,000 people.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Turkey appealed to the United States to do more to crack down on the Kurdish rebels inside Iraq. The United States considers the PKK a terrorist organization, and has said the majority of PKK members - about 3,000 - operate out of Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. But U.S. and Iraqi officials have insisted on diplomacy - not military force - to resolve the issue.

Falah Bakir says Kurdish officials also support negotiations, but he says Turkey's dispute with the PKK is ultimately a problem between the separatist rebels and the Turkish government.

"PKK is not an Iraqi issue," he said. "It is a Turkish issue, and we know the sensitivity of Turkey regarding that. Therefore, we are not part of this problem."

Kurdish officials in Iraq insist that Iraqi Kurdistan is interested in improving relations with Turkey, and point to increasing economic ties with Turkish businesses.

Within Turkey, there appears to be disagreement between the country's military and its political leaders over the PKK issue. Earlier this week, Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan voiced support for building ties with the regional Kurdistan government in Iraq, which is comprised of the same political parties that the Turkish military says support PKK rebels.