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Monday, October 12, 1998 Published at 20:49 GMT 21:49 UK

World: Middle East

Hopes for Turkey-Syria settlement

Turkey accuses Syria of supporting Kurdish rebels

The Egyptian foreign minister has spoken optimistically of his country's efforts to reduce the tension between Turkey and Syria.

Speaking in Damascus on the latest stage of his mediation mission, Amr Moussa said there were positive hopes of settling the crisis.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Moussa was in Ankara, where he delivered a message from the Syrian Government, saying Damascus was willing to meet Turkish concerns about foreign support for the Kurdish separatist fighters operating in south-eastern Turkey.

The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, said that if the ideas contained in the message were turned into concrete action, then Turkey and Syria could have good neighbourly relations.

But, he added, "given our past history with Syria, we need to evaluate what they do".

'Poke out the eyes'

Mr Moussa's mediation came after the Turkish Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, threatened to ''poke out the eyes'' of Syria unless it stopped harbouring Kurdish separatist forces.

Turkey accuses Syria of waging an "undeclared war" by backing Kurdish guerrillas fighting for autonomy over the past 14 years.

Turkish leaders have threatened military action if Syria does not hand over Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, widely thought to live in Damascus.

"If Syria did not shelter the head of the bandits, if it did not set up camps and give money then it would not be possible for this separatist bandit to continue his path," Mr Yilmaz said.

"Our primary duty is to uproot this bandit. We are determined to do this, we are sworn."

Foreign governments, including the United States, are concerned that any violent conflict could rapidly spread in a notoriously unstable region.

The Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, has also made attempts to cool the dispute.

On Friday, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, wrote to his Arab counterparts accusing Syria of trying to incite the Arab world against Turkey with false information.

Syria has been at the forefront of a chorus of criticism of Turkey for its growing defence relationship with Israel.

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