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Iraq rejects refuge for Turkey's Kurdish fighters

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 9, 2013 at 8:25 am •  Published: May 9, 2013

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq on Thursday rejected a key element of an accord to bring an end to a long Kurdish uprising in Turkey — offering refuge to rebel fighters in country's north.

In March, the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, announced a deal to end a nearly three-decade conflict in turkey that has killed tens of thousands of people. The deal was reached in talks between imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and the Turkish government.

The refuge offer came from Iraq's Kurdish region, which enjoys limited independence from the central Iraqi government in Baghdad. Iraqi Kurds were involved in the talks with Turkey.

The prospect of additional fighters joining the Kurdish forces in Iraq's north could add tension to already souring relations with Baghdad. The two sides are in conflict over contested areas, including key oil-producing sectors.

As part of the accord, the PKK rebels agreed to a gradual retreat from Turkish territory to Iraq's Kurdish region. On Thursday, Baghdad rejected that.

"The Iraqi government welcomes any political and peaceful settlement to the Kurdish cause in Turkey to stop the bloodshed and violence between the two sides and adopt a democratic approach to end this internal struggle," said a statement issued by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

"But at the same time ... it does not accept the entry of armed groups to its territories that can be used to harm Iraq's security and stability," the ministry said.

PKK, considered a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies, is believed to have between 1,500 and 2,000 fighters inside Turkey, in addition to several thousand more based in northern Iraq, which they use as a springboard for attacks in Turkey.

To ease Baghdad's concerns, PKK spokesman, Ahmet Deniz assured the Iraqi government that the plan would boost democracy and stability in the region.

"The (peace) process is not aimed against anyone, and there is no need for concerns that the struggle will take on another format and pose a threat to others," Deniz told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

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