ANKARA (AFP–Italian Foreign Minister Massimo d’Alema cautioned Turkey on Wednesday against an incursion into northern Iraq to pursue Kurdish rebels, saying Iraq cannot take more tension.
D’Alema renewed Italy’s support for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and promised efforts to ensure speeding up the mainly Muslim country’s membership talks.
Referring to a debate in Ankara on whether a cross-border operation should be launched to destroy Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) bases inside Iraq, d’Alema said: "Dialogue and cooperation will be more useful and efficient in the struggle against terrorism."
"I’m against cross-border operations — not only by Turkey, but also against operations that violate Turkey’s borders," he told reporters through an interpreter after talks with Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.
"It will be to everyone’s benefit to refrain from creating more tensions in a region which is already tense and unstable."
The Turkish military has said that a military operation is needed to destroy PKK bases in northern Iraq where, officials say, the rebels also obtain weapons and explosives for attacks inside Turkey.
But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated Tuesday that he would resist such calls, saying that Turkey should focus on fighting the group inside the country.
The PKK, which has fought for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984, is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
D’Alema expressed sympathy for the victims of PKK attacks, which have been on the increase, and stressed that Turkey’s Kurds should advance their rights through peaceful ways.
"Italy and the EU have always called on Turkey for progress on freedoms and human rights," he said. "But these calls in no way legitimize the use of violence and terror by certain groups to obtain their rights and deman’s."
D’Alema said Turkey had "proved that it has strong and stable democratic institutions" and pledged that Italy would work to ensure that Turkey opens three more chapters in negotiations with the EU by the end of June when Germany’s six-month presidency ends.
He also called for the resumption of UN-sponsored talks to reunify Cyprus, which stalled in 2004 after a referendum on a UN settlement plan failed owing to a "no" vote on the Greek Cypriot side. The Turkish Cypriots backed the plan.
"We wish that… a solution is found to this problem as soon as possible, which would also contribute to Turkey’s EU (accession) process," he said.
The 33-year division of Cyprus is at the core of an EU decision in December to freeze membership talks with Turkey in eight of the 35 chapters that candidates are required to complete.
Turkey refuses to grant trade privileges to Cyprus under a customs union pact with the EU on the grounds that the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government does not represent the whole island.
It is the only country to recognize the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet in the north of the island.
Turkey began membership negotiations in October 2005 amid strong opposition to its accession among the European public. It has so far managed to open talks in only two areas.
D’Alema, who also met President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Erdogan, was to wrap up his two-day visit later Wednesday.