Turkey, US try to resolve row

American and Turkish officials have been holding talks in Ankara to try to resolve their differences over last week's detention of Turkish soldiers by US occupation forces in northern Iraq.

    Senior generals and diplomats converged on the army headquarters in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Wednesday amid a media blackout.

    But officials said the two sides were trying to determine the circumstances behind the arrests and ways to improve co-ordination in the region in the future.

    "There can be no excuse for the action taken against our soldiers. It is our right to expect the US to give us a satisfactory explanation," Sermet Atacanli, the spokesman of President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, told reporters.

      

    "The importance of Turkish-American relations is obvious. It is to the benefit of both sides that this alliance continues unaltered," Atacanli said.

     

    US forces on Friday raided a building used by Turkish special forces in the northern Iraqi town of Sulaymaniyah, arresting 11 soldiers and seizing equipment and documents.

     

    Diplomatic row

     

    The soldiers were freed two days later, but the incident strained already tense relations between the two NATO allies, resulting from Ankara's refusal to allow US troops to use its territory in the war against Iraq.

     

    Washington still has not declared why the soldiers were arrested, saying only the move was the result of "reports of disturbing activities that they might have been involved in".

     

    Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul denied on Wednesday the soldiers were involved in any questionable activity.

      

    "They (the US) have some intelligence and we are telling them that it is not true," he told reporters.

      

    Some Turkish newspapers said the soldiers were suspected of plotting to assassinate the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk.

     

    Ties with Kurds

      

    Others suggested the US was angered by secret Turkish activities to hunt down leaders of Turkish Kurdish rebels, based in northern Iraq.

     

    Those rebels reportedly reached a deal with the Americans to provide them with information about Iranian army positions in the border area between Iran and Iraq.

     

    Turkish soldiers have been based in northern Iraq since 1997 to hunt for Turkish Kurdish rebels who use the area to launch attacks against Turkey.

      

    Ankara is also concerned about co-operation between the US and the Iraqi Kurds, whom it suspects of plotting to break away from Baghdad.

     

    Officials worry that prospect may encourage Turkey's sizeable Kurdish population to further their separatist ambitions. 

     

    Talabani to visit Turkey

     

    Talabani (R) says the US
    was wrong to detain the
    soldiers

    Against this backdrop, Iraqi Kurd leader Jalal Talabani is expected to travel to Ankara next week for talks with officials.

      

    Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), said his visit would provide an opportunity to explain what happened in Sulaymaniyah.

     

    Talabani has stressed his faction had no role in the incident.

      

    "They (US soldiers) did not inform us beforehand and they did not ask permission. We did not want Turkish soldiers to be detained," he told reporters.

     

    "We told the Americans that what they did was wrong," Talabani added.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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