RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP)- Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ali Babacan arrived unexpectedly in Jeddah on Sunday _ the third Arab country he has visited since the Turkish parliament authorized the government to send troops into northern Iraq to hunt down Kurdish rebels.
Babacan was met by his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud, the official news agency, SPA, reported. The agency did not provide more details. Babacan has already visited Lebanon and Egypt, a top U.S. ally in the Arab world.
During his previous stops, Babacan said his country was drawing up a plan to send troops into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish guerrilla groups after long attempting to work with the U.S. and Iraqi governments to resolve the problems of Kurdish guerrillas who use northern Iraq as a rear base to attack Turkish territory.
Kurdish separatists from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have bastions in the mountainous areas across the Iraqi-Turkish frontier. They have been fighting since 1984 for autonomy in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Last week, the Turkish parliament authorized the government to send troops into northern Iraq to hunt down Kurdish rebels. The vote removed the last legal obstacle to an offensive.
The Turkish military said Sunday that Turkish troops killed 23 Kurdish rebels in an offensive following a rebel attack that killed at least 12 soldiers and it also shelled
63 suspected rebel targets. It did not specify whether the targets were inside Turkey or across the border, in northern Iraq, although Private NTV television said the targets were located in Iraq.
While Syria, which Babacan visited earlier this month, has said it is Turkey’s right to take action against the guerrillas, other Arab governments have said little on the potential for Turkish military action in Iraq. Arabs generally oppose any infringement on a fellow Arab state’s sovereignty, but they also have little sympathy for Kurdish separatists and many in the region are suspicious of the Kurdish autonomous government in northern Iraq, fearing it aims to become independent.
Turkish leaders have said that the parliament motion did not mean that Turkey would immediately order a cross-border offensive. The U.S. lists the PKK as a terrorist organization and has condemned its attacks in Turkey.
However, Washington has called on the Turkish government to work with the Iraqis.