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Turkey's President Abdullah Gul makes landmark visit to Iraq

President Jalal Talabani of Iraq warned rebel Turkish Kurds based in the north of the country to lay down their arms or leave the country during the landmark visit by Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president.


AFP - Iraq on Monday warned Turkish Kurdish rebels based in its northern mountains to lay down their guns or leave the country, during a landmark visit by Turkey's President Abdullah Gul.

"The PKK has two choices: lay down its guns or leave Iraq," President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, said of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) at a joint news conference marking the first visit by a Turkish head of state in 33 years.

"The PKK must become involved in political and parliamentary life instead of resorting to weapons, since using guns does wrong to Kurds and Iraqis," Talabani said.

"Iraq's constitution forbids the existence of armed groups, the PKK along with others, and we are currently working towards this aim on the tripartite committee" comprising Iraq, Turkey and the United States, he said.

The Turkish president said: "It is time to finish with these problems because they harm relations between our two countries ... Common action is needed to eliminate terrorism."

Gul said the responsibility fell upon "officials in the areas where these terrorists are implanted," in reference to the Kurdish regional government of northern Iraq.

He was also set to meet the premier of the Kurdish autonomous region during his trip, an official with the regional government said. Falah Mustafa said Nechirvan Barzani would meet Gul in Baghdad.

Turkey has often accused the Iraqi Kurds, and the autonomous administration in northern Iraq, of tolerating and even aiding the rebels.

Ankara says thousands of PKK militants use mountainous northern Iraq as a springboard to attack Turkey.

The Turkish army has targeted rebel bases in Iraq under a parliamentary authorisation for cross-border military action, which was first approved in 2007 and renewed for another year in October.

In Istanbul last week Talabani urged Turkey to consider an amnesty for the rebels to consolidate measures broadening Kurdish cultural freedoms and boost the prospect of a lasting peace.

He also said the Kurdish rebels were likely to heed an appeal expected to be issued next month by Kurdish political groups from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Europe to lay down their weapons.

"I believe the PKK will accept the wish of all Kurdish parties, laying down its arms and putting an end to violent action," Talabani told Turkey's Sabah newspaper.

The PKK's expected move would not mean only a ceasefire but "a decision in principle to end the so-called armed revolution," he said.

Kurdish groups from the region and Europe are due to gather in late April or May, probably in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, which serves as the capital of Iraq's Kurds.

Talabani first visited Turkey as head of state a year ago, when he and Gul pledged to cooperate in attempts to oust PKK rebels from their bases in northern Iraq.

The last Turkish head of state to visit Iraq was Fahri Koruturk, who made the trip in 1976 back when Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr was president of Iraq.

Ankara wants close ties and economic cooperation with Baghdad, but the safe haven the PKK enjoys in northern Iraq has long been a bone of contention.

Hopes of better cooperation improved after Iraq, Turkey and the United States agreed in November to form a joint committee on the issue.

Visiting Ankara in December, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pledged to increase cooperation to root out the rebels.

The PKK, labelled a terrorist group by 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.

Gul's talks were also likely to cover the controversial issues of water and of oil-rich Kirkuk, an ethnically divided city 255 kilometres (160 miles) north of Baghdad where tensions between Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen residents run deep.

Turkmen, an ethnic group comprising about 600,000 people, are concentrated around Kirkuk. Kurds have demanded that the city be added to their autonomous region in Iraq's north, but Turkey and Iraqi Arabs oppose this.

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