ANKARA ø Turkey's largest insurgency group, despite an amnesty
offer, was said to have increased its strength.
Turkish officials said the Kurdish Workers Party has increased its
membership in both Turkey and neighboring Iraq. They said an amnesty offer,
relayed in 2003 and which expired on Feb. 6, 2004, was largely ignored by
thousands of PKK operatives.
About 4,500 PKK members were estimated in northern Iraq. Officials said
about 500 operatives have left northern Iraq for Western Europe amid threats
of a Turkish offensive.
In all, about 650 PKK members and 700 Hizbullah militants ø not
connected to the Beirut-based group ø responded to
the offer, the lion's share of whom were not wanted for major offenses. It
was the sixth amnesty offer by Ankara since 1985 and previous campaigns were
also deemed as unsatisfactory.
Officials said more than half of the PKK presence in northern Iraq
arrived in 2000. They were said to have joined the PKK force in Iraq from
Iran, Syria and Turkey.
"This means that the organization is growing instead of shrinking,"
Mustafa Balbay, a columnist for the Turkish Cumhuriyet daily, said. "The
critical question is this: Will the United States agree to eliminate the
Officials said the Bush administration raised the prospect of extending
the Turkish amnesty offer. But they said Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who
met President George Bush and senior officials in late January, did not
relay such a commitment.
The Erdogan government has been pressing the United States to help expel
the PKK from northern Iraq. Last year, U.S. troops raided Kurdish insurgency
strongholds in northern Iraq in what was regarded as a goodwill gesture to
Officials said the military and some members of parliament have been
for a Turkish offensive against the PKK and other insurgents in northern
Iraq. They said Ankara has been urging Washington to cooperate in such an
In Washington, the State Department asserted that the United States has
worked with Turkey to eliminate the PKK presence in northern Iraq.
"I think we've actually been working actively to control and eliminate
the activities of terrorists in northern Iraq," State Department spokesman
Richard Boucher said on Wednesday. "We've had very close cooperation with
Turkish government on this, except for a couple of incidents that I think
you're familiar with. But the United States has been actively working in
that area to try to eliminate terrorism and prevent terrorism that might be
directed against us, against Iraqis or against Turkey."