SIRNAK (AFP)–The Turkish army pounded members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) near the Iraqi border Tuesday as Ankara warned that ties with Washington would suffer as long as the Kurds enjoyed sanctuary in northern Iraq.
Cobra helicopters fired missiles at PKK positions on the Cudi mountains in Sirnak province, which borders Iraq, where fighting was continuing for a second day. Three soldiers have been killed in the clashes, officials said.
Smoke from artillery fire could be seen above the rugged hills while at least one Sikorsky transport helicopter dropped off troops and a convoy of military trucks headed for the Iraqi border.
The fighting comes after about 100 members of PKK were killed Monday in neighboring Hakkari province after the army surrounded them and blocked their escape routes to Iraq.
During the weekend one soldier was killed during a large-scale crackdown on the Kurds in Tunceli province to the north. The army has not confirmed reports that 15 members of the PKK were also killed in the clashes.
In Ankara, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the United States that its failure to help end the PKK safe haven in northern Iraq would harm the relationship between the two long-standing NATO allies.
Scheduled to meet US President George W. Bush at the White House on November 5, Erdogan called for "concrete, urgent steps" against the PKK, which Washington, like most of the international community, considers a terrorist group.
"The problem of the PKK organization is a sincerity test for everybody," Erdogan said. "I will tell him (Bush) that this test carries great importance for the region and in determining the fate of our future relations."
He said he would discuss "the groups on which the organization relies"–an apparent reference to the Iraqi Kurds, who administer northern Iraq and are accused by Ankara of tolerating and even supporting the PKK.
"Our talks (with Bush) will make them better understand that Turkey’s patience has run out and that we are determined to unhesitatingly take all the steps to finish off terrorism," he said.
The Turkish army has reportedly massed about 100,000 troops along the Iraqi border after the Turkish parliament gave approval for a military incursion into northern Iraq to root out the militants.
Tensions at the frontier increased after October 21 when PKK members, who Turkey says infiltrated from northern Iraq, ambushed a military unit and killed 12 soldiers. Eight troops were captured.
The army has confirmed killing 65 rebels since then.
The crisis will enter a crucial diplomatic stage Thursday when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Ankara for talks with Turkish leaders before Erdogan’s Washington visit.
Rice will then participate in a multilateral conference on Iraq in Istanbul on Friday and Saturday, which Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari will also attend.
Washington, strongly opposed to Turkish military action in northern Iraq, is stuck in an awkward position between two key allies–NATO member Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds.
Defying Turkish pressure, Massud Barzani, head of the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, said he would take no "orders" from Ankara to crack down on the PKK bases.
"I am a friend of Turkey but I am not taking orders from Turkey or anyone else," Barzani told Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper in an interview published Tuesday
He urged the PKK to lay down arms and called on Turkey to consider a political solution to the Kurdish problem, including a general amnesty for the rebels.