[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Saturday, 27 October 2007, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
A mountain meeting with the PKK
By Crispin Thorold
BBC News, near Zakho, northern Iraq

PKK fighters in northern Iraq
The PKK fighters say they want rights for Kurds in Turkey
The soldiers at the final Iraqi border patrol checkpoint were reluctant to let us through.

"If you want to continue, you do so at your own risk," one warned.

The writ of the local authorities ended at this point and after the checkpoint we would enter Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) territory.

For the next 10 miles or so the road was paved. As it hugged the rugged mountains, it wound deeper into the territories bordering Turkey.

Abruptly we turned off onto a dirt track which local people had told us would lead us to the PKK.

The dusty track was bumpy and was only accessible on foot or in a four-wheel-drive car.

Rebel's paradise

The path descended into a valley and as we drove next to a stream, we were often in full view of the surrounding hills. An invading army travelling on the same route could face an ambush at any turn.

map

The mountains in this part of northern Iraq are a rebel's paradise. The steep, jagged peaks are covered in trees and caves dot the hillsides. The rivers that flow through the valleys are hidden by woods.

When we reached the PKK we nearly missed them. They were in a little copse across a stream and it was only the light of their campfire that caught our attention.

Two men dressed in military fatigues with Kalashnikovs slung across their shoulders immediately jumped up. They said that they would talk but first the elder man had a question for us. "Why does everyone call us terrorists?" he asked.

The rebel, who said that his name was Yezdin Sher, was puzzled. "The British government call us terrorists. The BBC call us terrorists."

He said: "They only call us terrorists because there are good relations between them and the Turkish government. That's why they call us terrorists."

Mountains of northern Iraq
The mountainous country is a haven for the PKK

The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. It is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians - Turks and Kurds - in south-eastern Turkey.

Yezdin Sher was adamant. "We have a right to defend our nationality," he said. "The Turkish government has for many years stood against the Kurds. [In Turkey] There are no schools, no Kurdish language and no rights for the Kurds.

"We have a right to be free like the Kurds of Iraq who for 50 years stood against Saddam's regime and the previous regimes. We also want freedom and we don't target any civilians," he added.

Blamed for bomb

That claim would be ridiculed by the Turkish government, as well as by much of the international community.

Last Sunday the PKK was blamed by the Turkish military for a bomb explosion which injured 17 people who were part of a wedding party.

Human rights groups say that during the course of the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish military, some 35,000 people have been killed - the vast majority of them civilians.

They [the Turkish government] have special units who dress in our uniforms and kill civilians
PKK fighter Yilmaz Sardar

However, the PKK men refused to acknowledge that they were responsible for the deaths of civilians, instead blaming the government.

At this stage the younger and quieter of the two men spoke up. "They [the Turkish government] have special units who dress in our uniforms and kill civilians," Yilmaz Sardar said. "Then they blame us."

The fighters claimed that they had no support in the mountains from the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq. Instead, they said that they relied on the help of local people and smugglers.

'We are ready'

The elder man, Yezdin Sher, said that he had been living in the mountains for 19 years and neither of the rebels had any intention of leaving before they had won rights for the Kurds in south-eastern Turkey.

"If the Turks cross the border we will fight them," said Yezdin Sher. "We are guerrillas. They can't do anything against guerrillas."

The afternoon was drawing to a close and the light was beginning to fall. Before we left the elder man wanted to make it clear that in his view war did not have to be inevitable.

"It is better to resolve the Kurdish problem peacefully," said Yezdin Sher. "We are ready to make a ceasefire with the Turkish government if the Turkish government accepts that. We are ready."



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific