* Accusation reflects unravelling of Turkish-Syrian ties
* Supply of weapons could exacerbate conflict in Turkey
* Davutoglu says PKK trying to exploit power vacuum
ISTANBUL, Aug 9 Turkey's foreign minister
accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of arming a Kurdish
militant group that has fought the Turkish state for decades,
potentially exacerbating a conflict which has killed more than
Clashes between the Turkish army and Kurdistan Workers Party
(PKK) militants have intensified in recent weeks east of the
border with Syria in southeast Turkey. Ankara is concerned the
PKK is exploiting the chaos in Syria to expand its influence.
On Thursday suspected PKK militants ambushed a Turkish
military bus in the western province of Izmir, killing a soldier
and wounding at least 11 people.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkish media while
travelling to Myanmar overnight that Assad had given weapons to
the PKK, which has established a presence in the towns of Kobani
and Afrin in northern Syria.
"Assad gave them weapons support. Yes - this is not a
fantasy. It is true. We have taken necessary measures against
this threat," news websites reported the minister as saying.
There was no immediate comment from Damascus. In an
interview with a Turkish newspaper at the start of July, Assad
denied that Syria had allowed the PKK to operate on Syrian
territory close to the Turkish frontier.
Davutoglu's comments spelled out allegations previously made
by lower-ranking Turkish officials.
Turkey suspects a major Syrian Kurdish movement, the
Democratic Union Party (PYD), of having links with the PKK.
Turkish analysts believe Assad let the PYD take control of
security of some towns in northern Syria to prevent locals from
joining the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Relations between Ankara and Damascus have deteriorated to
lows unimaginable just a few years ago, when Turkey cultivated
"good neighbourly relations" with Assad, easing border controls
and taking part in joint military exercises.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is now one of Assad's
harshest critics and has raised the possibility of military
intervention in Syria if the PKK becomes a threat there.
Military defectors have set up FSA bases in southern Turkey,
and some are trained and coordinated by Turkish, Qatari and
Saudi officers operating from a secret "nerve centre" near the
city of Adana, Gulf sources have told Reuters.
Davutoglu, the architect of Turkey's now defunct good
neighbours policy, dismissed criticism that Turkey was
unprepared for the situation in northern Syria.
"There is unnecessary panic. You can be sure we anticipated
all this ... Turkey's power to influence in Syria has not been
weakened in any place or in any incident," he said.
Asked about the growing influence of the PYD, Davutoglu
said: "They are hoping to take advantage if Assad goes and there
is a (power) vacuum. But they will not succeed."
The issue of granting autonomy to any region should only be
considered once a new parliament has been elected, he said.
"But if an armed group gains control of a place before the
people have elected a parliament, another armed group can take
control of another place. This is what we don't want to see."
The PYD has warned Turkey not to interfere in the region and
said it has nothing to fear.
In 1998, Ankara came close to war with Assad's father,
then-President Hafez al-Assad, over the presence of PKK leader
Abdullah Ocalan in Damascus and alleged Syrian support for PKK
activities in northeastern Syria.
Hafez al-Assad took the threat seriously enough to evict
Ocalan - who was shortly afterwards captured in Kenya by Turkish
forces with probable U.S. support. Ocalan is serving a life
sentence in an island prison south of Istanbul.