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Iraqi PM in Ankara for talks on Kurdish rebels

Latest update : 2008-12-24

Turkey has sought close relations and economic cooperation with Baghdad but the safe haven the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) enjoys in neighbouring northern Iraq has cast a shadow on bilateral ties.

AFP - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara on Wednesday on a trip centred on the thorny issue of Turkish Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq.

Maliki expressed support for a committee established between Iraq, Turkey and the United States last month to find strategies to fight the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels holed up in northern Iraq.

"We support this work. Its main task is the fight against the PKK," he said after arriving in the Turkish capital, according to Anatolia news agency.

"We are here to defend all the interests of both countries," said Maliki, who was accompanied by his trade, electricity and public works ministers.

Maliki met with Gul and was due to meet later with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two premiers were to chair meetings of cooperation committees.

Ankara has sought close relations and economic cooperation with Baghdad but the safe haven the PKK enjoys in neighbouring northern Iraq has cast a shadow on bilateral ties.

The trilateral committee has renewed hopes for greater cooperation against the rebels.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, took up arms for self-rule in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 44,000 lives.

In the eve of Maliki's visit, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, gave fresh assurances that both Baghdad and the Kurdish administration of northern Iraq were determined to purge the region of the PKK.

"We, the Iraqi Kurds, will no longer allow armed people from any Kurdish group to use our territory to carry out attacks on Turkey or Iran," Talabani said in an interview with Turkey's Aksam daily, published Tuesday.

"We will take the necessary measures," he said, adding that Kurdish parties in northern Iraq would soon convene a meeting to issue a joint appeal to the PKK to abandon its armed struggle.

Hundreds of militants from the PKK and its sister group in Iran, PJAK, are holed up the mountains of northern Iraq, which they use as a launching pad for cross-border attacks.

Ankara has often accused the Iraqi Kurds, who run an autonomous administration in northern Iraq, of tolerating and even aiding the rebels.

But in a policy shift earlier this year, it said it would seek to resolve the issue through diplomacy and intensified contacts with the Iraqi Kurds, whom it had long snubbed.

And Turkish President Gul indicated Tuesday he will soon visit Iraq after postponing his visit to the Middle East earlier this month because of an ear ailment that prevents him from flying.

"We have delayed this visit, but I will definitely go there," he told journalists.

Turkish warplanes have since last year bombed PKK hideouts in the region and the Iranian military has also often targetted the militants.

Talabani said relations with Turkey were of "strategic" importance, adding that all Iraqi groups were "irked by the PKK attacks against Turkey" and shared "an absolute understanding" on improving ties with Ankara.

He also urged the Turkish government to enact its own measures to encourage the rebels to lay down their arms.

Kurdish activists in Turkey have long called for a general amnesty for the militants, but the government has refused to consider such a move.

Maliki was scheduled to travel on to Iran after wrapping up his visit Thursday morning.

Date created : 2008-12-24