Syria, Turkey sign security pact

Thursday, December 18, 2003

ANKARA Syria and Turkey have reached a security agreement that aims to launch a joint campaign against insurgency groups.

The two countries signed a security memorandum of understanding on Wednesday meant to bolster joint efforts against what officials termed terrorism and organized crime. The agreement was signed by visiting Syrian Interior Minister Ali Hamoud and his Turkish counterpart Abdulkadir Aksu.

"The two countries have confirmed that improving cooperation in the fight against terrorism is very important for regional peace," Aksu said.

The MoU was meant to increase security cooperation by Damascus launched in 1998 after the Syrian expulsion of Abdullah Ocalan, head of the Kurdish Workers Party, or the PKK, Middle East Newsline reported. The memorandum seeks to ensure that Syria cooperates in Turkey's battle against the PKK and other groups deemed as terrorist by Ankara.

Turkey has long accused Syria of harboring the PKK. Turkish officials said about 5,000 PKK fighters are in northern Iraq and some of them have infiltrated neighboring Syria.

Ankara has also demanded that Syria arrest five suspects in the Istanbul attacks by Al Qaida in November. The suspects were believed to have fled to Syria and officials said the Turkish demand topped the agenda of the ministers.

"Let bygones be bygones," Aksu said. "But by goodwill and mutual understanding, we will overcome any problems."

Hamoud, the Syrian minister, said Damascus would cooperate with Turkey and detain anybody deemed a threat to Turkish security. Last month, Syria arrested 22 Turkish nationals suspected of being involved in the Al Qaida suicide bombings in Istanbul.

Earlier security agreements between Syria and Turkey have covered such fields of cooperation as organized crime, drug trafficking and border protection. But Turkish officials said the implementation of these accords has been spotty.

During his three-day visit, Hamoud was expected to tour Turkish security facilities. Officials said Hamoud would be allowed to examine Western-origin security systems aimed to help Turkish forces secure the nation's borders.

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