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Turkey suspects Kurd rebels-Assad links

24 August 2012, 10:31

Ankara - A recent increase in Kurdish rebel attacks close to the Turkish-Syrian border is ringing alarm bells in Ankara, as Turkish experts and media say it might point to a spillover from the crisis in Syria.

Although the Turkish southeast is a frequent scene of Kurdish rebel attacks, Wednesday's bombing that killed nine people in previously unaffected Gaziantep city has sparked national fury, as well as suspicions of a Damascus hand behind the incident.

"It's known that the PKK works hand in hand with Syria's intelligence organisation al-Mukhabarat," claimed ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy chairperson Huseyin Celik following the blast, referring to the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Syrian President Bashar Assad "is inclined to see Turkey's enemy the PKK as a friend on the basis that 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'", he told the daily Hurriyet.

Celik's remarks followed Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's cautious hints at Syrian involvement in the bombing, which he said showed "a parallelism in terms of mentality and approach" with the Assad regime's bloody crackdown on dissent.

The Kurdish separatist movement has denied charges that it was involved in the bombing that left civilian casualties, including four children, but Ankara insists it reflected the handiwork of the rebels.

Opportunity for terrorists

Assad is orchestrating the PKK attacks to send a "warning" to the Turkish government to reconsider its policies of assisting his own enemies, columnist Deniz Zeyrek wrote in the daily Radikal.

Another columnist, Asli Aydintasbas of the daily Milliyet, also suggested that the PKK targeted Gaziantep in a blow at the Turkish government's Syria policy.

Speaking to the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet in early July, Assad rejected claims that his regime was using the PKK to undermine Ankara, while making it clear that it was angry with Turkey.

The current chaos in Syria can be expected to offer rich opportunities for armed organisations to abuse the situation for their own ends, said Kamer Kasim from the International Strategic Research Organisation (USAK) in Ankara.

"If a country has a power vacuum, terrorist organisations are the first to exploit it, and in this case it will possibly be the PKK," Kasim said.

The Kurdish question has long played a role in the relations between Turkey and Syria, which both have Kurdish minorities complaining of discrimination and repression.

70 000 in Turkey camps

The neighbours came to the brink of war in the 1990s over Syria's harbouring of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan - now in jail in Turkey - and relations warmed only after Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP came to power in Ankara in 2003.

But Syria's uprising in March last year, which Assad's increasingly isolated regime has sought to crush with massive military force, turned Erdogan against his neighbour and onetime ally.

Turkey is sheltering more than 70 000 refugees in camps in the south of the country and also providing sanctuary to Syrian military defectors who have formed the Free Syrian Army to battle Assad.

Erdogan for his part has threatened military intervention if PKK bases are set up in Syria in addition to those in Iraq.



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