World News

Turkey extends mandate to fight rebels in Iraq

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday extended for one year a mandate that allows its military to attack Kurdish separatist rebels based in northern Iraq.

The widely anticipated move coincides with a Turkish government bid to boost the rights of Turkey’s Kurdish minority to help end a 25-year armed conflict.

Turkish fighter jets have staged a series of strikes on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in neighboring northern Iraq since October 2007, and in February 2008 the military sent land forces across the border to fight the outlawed group.

Such operations, backed by U.S. intelligence, have been credited with weakening the PKK, which has used its bases in northern Iraq to launch attacks on Turkey as part of a campaign for an autonomous Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey.

PKK commander Murat Karayilan said in a statement that the decision was a setback for peace in southeast Turkey.

“If the Turkish government really wants peace, it has to stop all military campaigns and repression,” Karayilan said.

“They are gambling on war and military operations ... Only a mutual ceasefire and talks will lead to a just solution for the Kurdish problem ... Otherwise things will get out of control and we won’t be responsible for the consequences.”

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants to address decades-old Kurdish grievances by boosting Kurdish rights to find an end to the conflict with the PKK that has claimed some 40,000 lives since 1984 and cost the state billions of dollars.

But he has ruled out negotiations with the PKK itself.

There has been some concern that extending the mandate would harm the process, but Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the assembly before the vote the government was determined to push ahead with the reform process.

Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia and Tim Cocks; editing by Robin Pomeroy