World News

Third U.S. general in a week visits Turkey over PKK

ANKARA (Reuters) - A third senior U.S. general to visit Turkey in less than a week has held talks in Ankara on ways to combat Kurdish PKK guerrillas based in northern Iraq, the Turkish General Staff said in a statement on its Website.

The visit by General Bantz Craddock, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, follows pledges this month by U.S. President George W. Bush to help NATO ally Turkey more to combat the rebels through increased intelligence sharing and other steps.

“(In Craddock’s talks on Saturday), the issue of cooperation including intelligence sharing between Turkey and the United States in the common struggle against the PKK terrorist organization were discussed,” said the General Staff statement.

Last Tuesday, General David Petraeus, head of U.S. forces in Iraq, and General James Cartwright, vice-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, also visited Ankara to discuss the fight against the PKK.

The flurry of high-level military contacts underlines the strong U.S. desire to avert a threatened cross-border incursion into northern Iraq by Turkish forces, a move Washington and Baghdad fear could destabilize the wider region.

Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops, backed up by tanks, artillery and warplanes, near the mountainous border in preparation for a possible assault on PKK positions inside mainly Kurdish northern Iraq.

But officials say the chances of such a major incursion have now lessened because of both the improved cooperation with U.S. and Iraqi authorities and of deteriorating weather conditions which would make a large-scale military action more difficult.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey still reserved the right to send troops into northern Iraq if this were deemed necessary, but he also emphasized the need for diplomatic and political measures against the PKK.

Ankara blames the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since the group began its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.

The United States and the European Union, like Turkey, class the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Reporting by Gareth Jones