Turkey concerned as ranks of Kurdish Workers Party grow

Friday, February 27, 2004

ANKARA 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 the 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 not connected to the Beirut-based group 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 organization?"

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 Ankara.

Officials said the military and some members of parliament have been pressing 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 operation.

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 the 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."

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