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Monday, October 19, 1998 Published at 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK

World: Middle East

Turkey's 'last warning' to Syria

Turkey alleges that Syria is harbouring Kurdish guerrillas

"Turkey is maintaining a tough position" - Chris Morris reports from Ankara
The Turkish President, Suleyman Demirel, has said Turkey is giving Syria a last chance to prove it has stopped supporting the separatist Kurdish rebel group, the PKK.

"All we want Syria to do is to cut its support for the terrorists, close down their camps and not to harbour their leader [Abdullah Ocalan]," Mr Demirel said in a public speech in Hatay province, close to the Syrian border.

[ image: President Suleyman Demirel - warning Syria for the last time]
President Suleyman Demirel - warning Syria for the last time
"We are trying to persuade Syria for the last time," Mr Demirel said warning: "The Turkish state is strong enough to eliminate such problems."

Mr Demirel was speaking ahead of a meeting between Turkish and Syrian officials about the increased tension between the two countries, scheduled to take place at a secret location on Monday.

"At this meeting, our delegation will determine whether Syria meets our demands against separatist terrorism," Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said in a written statement.

Relations between Turkey and neighbouring Syria have deteriorated sharply in the past few weeks, after Turkey suggested it might take military action against Syria because of its alleged support to PKK guerrillas. The threat raised fears of a regional war.

[ image: President Assad of Syria - has long denied Turkish charges]
President Assad of Syria - has long denied Turkish charges
More recently, in what correspondents called one of the most serious charges in a war of words, Turkey accused Syria of secretly sending army officers to fight alongside the PKK.

"We have seen that a number of Syrian army officers were among the killed PKK terrorists in recent clashes with our army," Defense Minister Ismet Sezgin said.

Syria denial

Syria has long denied supporting the PKK, and says it wants to resolve the conflict peacefully.

"Where diplomacy ends whatever is necessary must be done," Defence Minister Ismet Sezgin said in a television interview aired late on Sunday.

But the news that the Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan is no longer in Syria, is likely to ease the tension.

In a communique carried by the Kurdish news agency DEM, Mr Ocalan acknowledges that from time to time he has visited Syria and stayed there "independently of the Syrian state," but he says he is no longer there.

"I am in Kurdistan and am continuing my work," Mr Ocalan wrote, referring to a swathe of Kurdish-populated lands in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia.

More than 29,000 people have died in 14 years of conflict in Kurdish southeast Turkey, which has often spilled over into northern Iraq.

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