Turkey says Damascus is allowing PKK rebels to set up positions in Syria

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The Turkish interior minister says Damascus is allowing Kurdish rebels to set up positions in Syria as the two countries’ ties deteriorate.

Idris Naim Sahin said Turkish intelligence reports indicate that Syria “is turning a blind eye” to rebels who have established themselves in areas close to the Turkish border. He says rebels belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have even taken control of the running of some towns.

In an interview with Turkey’s NTV television Wednesday, Sahin said the move was an apparent act of “revenge” against Turkey, which has called on the Syrian leader to step down and is hosting opposition members.

Syria harbored PKK rebels until Turkey threatened military action in 1998. Damascus was cooperating with Turkey in its fight against the rebels until ties soured over Syria’s bloody crackdown on civilians.

In a related story, a construction worker was killed and three people were wounded when Kurdish militants attacked a military outpost in southeastern Turkey near the Iraqi border, security sources said on Saturday.

Fevzi Altunc was killed late on Friday when gunmen from the PKK opened fire on the outpost in a remote area in Hakkari province, the sources said.

The three wounded workers were being treated in hospital on Saturday, they said. They had been building the station in the wooded, mountainous area near the village of Yesilova.

Security forces have launched an operation in the area, said Firat News, a website close to the PKK. The website said Altunc was killed and the others were wounded during a firefight between the PKK and Turkish soldiers.

Separately, PKK rebels kidnapped a village leader and five other members of a state-backed militia after stopping their vehicles at a road block in Bitlis province late on Friday, the sources said.

The PKK takes control of roads in parts of the mainly Kurdish southeast at night when the army returns to its bases.

The autonomy-seeking PKK has waged an armed campaign against the Turkish army since 1984, and more than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have been killed in the conflict

Violence typically picks up in the warmer spring months in the southeast, when PKK fighters are able to more easily cross mountain passes from northern Iraq, where they are based.