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March 05, 2012, Monday

Turkey’s PKK and missile fears over Syria

Turkey is speculated to have been arming and training the Syrian opposition who are fleeing into its territory, escaping from the Syrian regime's military crackdown. However, reliable sources state that such stories are not true. “Turkey does not arm and train the Syrian opposition, at least at the moment, out of a fear that another neighbor, Iran, as well as Syria may use such a Turkish policy to provoke its terrorist organization to further escalate violence in Turkish territory,” the same sources say.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging a war against Turkey over the past 30 years for an autonomous Kurdish region in the southeastern parts of the country, is based in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq bordering Iran, while one-third of PKK terrorists are of Syrian origin.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has already called the crackdown by Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime, which has killed thousands, a crime against humanity on the scale of the 1990s bloodshed in the Balkans. But neither Turkey nor the other members of the international community have a recipe to end Assad's bloodshed.

Unlike Libya where NATO gave air support to the Libyan opposition, which helped the fall of the regime, the Syrian opposition is not organized enough to be armed and trained.

However, if the Syrian opposition can be organized, the US, for example, may consider supplying it with arms while training them to fight effectively against the Assad regime. The venue for this training would not be Turkey due to its close scrutiny by both the Turkish and foreign media that cannot be censored. Countries such as Iraq may be chosen as a site for training the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Speculation, meanwhile, that Turkey might be arming the Syrian opposition stems from Ankara being at the forefront of efforts to nurture the Syrian opposition since abandoning Assad, hosting the Syrian National Council (SNC) and sheltering members of the FSA.

Amid speculation over whether arming the Syrian opposition would be a good option, the SNC announced on March 1 the establishment of a military bureau composed of military and civilian personnel. This opposition group, however, did not say where the bureau was established, in a statement it released on March 1 and posted on its website.

“In light of the rapid developments on the ground and in realizing the utmost importance of organizing the growing armed resistance along with the need to strengthen the capacity of the FSA, the Syrian National Council has established the military bureau to track the armed opposition groups, organize and unify their ranks under one central command, define their defense missions while placing them under the political supervision of the SNC and coordinate their activities in accordance with the overall strategy of the revolution,” said the statement.

In an apparent move to remove international concerns over arms proliferation, the statement also attempted to reassure those countries concerned that the SNC will prevent fragmentation and chaos with regards to the proliferation of weapons.

While the SNC asserts in its statement that it will prevent, among other things, the proliferation of weapons as it set up a military bureau, the Assad regime's missiles are another concern for the international community.

It has also been speculated that Turkey is planning to set up a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border in case the influx of refugees increases substantially to prevent the refugees from entering Turkey.

Thousands of Syrians are now living in four refugee camps on the Turkish side of the 900-kilometer border the countries share.

At a meeting in İstanbul last Friday, SNC representatives pressed Foreign Minister Davutoğlu to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to people trapped by Assad's forces inside Syria.

But Turkey has a concern that if a buffer zone is established without the Syrian regime's consent, there is the danger of Syrian forces retaliating with Scud missiles in its inventory.

Not only Turkey but the world is concerned about the ability of Syria to retaliate with arms from its missile and chemical warfare arsenal in the event of foreign intervention to prevent the Assad regime's military crackdown on the opposition.

Turkey earlier warned that all options -- including military intervention against Syria -- are on the table. Bearing in mind Turkish concerns over a possible Syrian role with regard to the PKK and its missile arsenal, Ankara is highly unlikely to intervene militarily in this neighboring country, despite internal and external provocations to this end.

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