BAGHDAD – Turkey's foreign minister rejected any cease-fire by Kurdish rebels Tuesday as he met with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad to press them to crack down on the guerrillas as Turkish forces massed and tensions rose over a threatened military incursion.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said there are several ways to fight terrorism and Ankara would use them when appropriate as the buildup of troops along Turkey's border with Iraq continued with military helicopters airlifting commando units into the area overnight.
The stepped up diplomatic activity followed Sunday's rebel ambush near the Iraqi border that left 12 Turkish soldiers dead, 16 wounded and eight missing.
"We also don't wish our historical and friendly ties with Iraq to be ruined because of a terrorist organization," Babacan said at a joint news conference after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "On the other hand, we are expecting support from international community and our neighbors in struggle against terrorism."
Babacan said rebel attacks left 42 people dead alone this month.
But he rejected any offer of a cease-fire by the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is known by its Kurdish acronym PKK and operates from bases in the mountainous border area in northern Iraq.
"Cease-fires is possible between states and regular forces," Babacan said. "The problem here is that we're dealing with a terrorist organization."
The PKK has called on Turkey not to attack Iraq, claiming that a unilateral rebel cease-fire declared in June was still in place although it did not halt fighting.
"The position of the PKK is that we have agreed to a cease-fire but when we are attacked by the Turkish troops we will hit back," rebel spokesman Abdul-Rahman al-Chadarchi told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
He also confirmed that the rebels were holding eight Turkish soldiers captive and promised to treat them with respect, although he said it was "premature" to discuss conditions for their release.
"When they were attacking us, they were our enemies but now they are helpless captives whom we will take care of," al-Chadarchi said. "When the Turkish government asks for them, we can talk about conditions."
Turkish officials said the search was continuing for soldiers from Sunday's attack and would not comment on the rebels' claims.
If confirmed, the seizure would be the largest since 1995, when guerrillas grabbed eight soldiers and took them to northern Iraq before releasing them two years later.
Zebari, himself a Kurd, called the latest crisis "complex and grave" and expressed hope that a diplomatic push would help stave off any incursion, which Iraqi and U.S. leaders have warned would threaten the relative peace in northern Iraq — the one stable area in the wartorn country.
He also said the two diplomats had agreed on concrete measures but he didn't elaborate, saying a high-level political and military defense delegation would travel soon to Turkey.
Zebari also insisted there was a "resolve and insistence on the part of the Iraqi government" to cooperate with Turkey to resolve the border issue "and deal with the terrorists that Turkey is subjected to."
But Babacan expressed frustration, saying U.S. and Iraqi authorities had promised to deal with the rebels in the past to no avail.
"The problem did not go away but the problem got worse. Right now, Turkey as a whole is very annoyed and concerned about what is going on and the public reaction in Turkey is huge," he said.
Babacan, who was to meet next with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd, has said Turkey will pursue diplomacy before sending in its military, but the buildup of troops along its border with Iraq continued with military helicopters airlifting commando units into the area overnight.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also was quoted Tuesday in the country's leading daily Hurriyet as saying that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had talked of a possible joint U.S.-Turkish operation against the rebels during a telephone call Sunday.
Neither Babacan or Zebari mentioned the report and the U.S. military said it was not aware of such plans.