Kurdish rebel conflict pits brother against brother

CIZRE, Turkey Sat Feb 23, 2008 6:05pm EST

CIZRE, Turkey (Reuters) - Kamuran Yuruk has good reason to worry about the Turkish army offensive in northern Iraq -- one of his brothers is a Kurdish guerrilla and another is doing his Turkish military service in the region.

His situation highlights the divisiveness of a 24-year-old conflict between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants which has left 40,000 people dead and southeast Turkey further mired in poverty with little hope of finding peace.

"I don't think there is a solution. The state will not accept the Kurdish demands and the PKK will not come down from the mountains," the 31-year-old said in a cramped, smoky teahouse in the border town of Cizre.

Further along the border, Turkish troops have advanced into Iraq in one of the largest cross-border offensive in a decade aimed at eliminating the threat from PKK rebels, who use northern Iraq as a base to stage attacks in Turkey.

The PKK fight for an independent state inspired Abdurrahman, 33, to join the rebels in the Iraqi mountains 19 years ago. His brother Kamuran considered joining him but his family pressured him to marry early and find work.

"This (conflict) is not just about identity or freedom, it is because of the pressure which the state exerts. People couldn't put up with it any more," Kamuran said.

He stayed in Cizre to work in construction - one of the few employment options aside from Iraqi border trade or becoming one of some 50,000 state-paid Kurdish village guards who support the fight against the rebels. The PKK is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union as well as Turkey.

The fighting is focused in the nearby mountains but in the 1990s it frequently spilled into the streets of Cizre as the rebels looked to exert control in the town of some 90,000, built along the banks of the Tigris river.

RENEWED CONFLICT

After the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999 the conflict died down and towns like Cizre found some stability. Fighting has escalated again in the last couple of years and the town is again feeling the reverberations.

"I have seen a lot of violence and people killed but this wouldn't happen if they didn't go against the people," said Ramazan Saksi, 45, who was forced to close his teahouse amid violent protests in the town last week.

One 15-year-old boy was killed, apparently run down by an armored vehicle during pro-PKK protests marking the anniversary of Ocalan's capture as security forces confronted stone-throwing youths. Riots erupted in Cizre last Saturday at his funeral.

Locals are worried that the latest incursion will only exacerbate an already tense situation in southeast Turkey and destabilize northern Iraq, which has close ethnic and family links with the region.

"I have relatives in northern Iraq and I am very worried about this operation. We don't want the military attacking civilians. All we want is equality and brotherhood in Turkey," said 29-year-old shopkeeper Naim Durmus.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

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