Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Militant Kurds Warn of Wreaking Havoc

ANTALYA, Turkey (AP) - After a rash of bombings, an extremist Kurdish militant group warned Tuesday that "the fear of death will reign everywhere in Turkey" and it urged tourists to avoid travel to the country.

Tourism is a critical industry in Turkey, with foreign tourists bringing in $13.9 billion last year. But many people sunbathing and partying on the Mediterranean coast say they aren't changing their plans.

Travel agents said that there were no significant cancellations after one bomb killed three people in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya and a previous blast injured 21 people, including 10 British tourists, in the seaside town of Marmaris.

"We were concerned," said Bob Bougie, 43, of Calgary, Canada, as he strolled along the yacht harbor in Antalya. But "I feel as if we left we are abandoning the Turkish people. We're not running that's for sure."

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, a small militant group, took responsibility for the blasts and vowed in a message on its Web site to turn "Turkey into hell."

The past few months have seen a surge in violent attacks in the overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast of Turkey that have left dozens of soldiers and guerrillas dead. That has led to a tougher Turkish crackdown in the region, the massing of Turkish tanks and artillery along the Iraqi border and threats to attack the main guerrilla bases in northern Iraq.

The bombings also come as Turkey is increasingly pressuring Washington to take measures against the guerrillas in northern Iraq and Ankara has threatened to take unilateral action if Washington keeps stalling.

On Tuesday, the United States appointed former Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston as a special envoy for countering the main guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK.

"Gen. Ralston will have responsibility for coordinating U.S. engagement with the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq to eliminate the terrorist threat of the PKK and other terrorist groups operating in northern Iraq and across the Turkey-Iraq border," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Those actions may have helped push the militants to redirect their attacks.

"Maybe this new tactic is born out of desperation," said Jeremy Binnie, an analyst with Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center in London.

"They are launching raids from Iraq and the Turkish military has been relatively successful in containing the violence," he said. "To some extent they are trying to internationalize the conflict when they are not having much of an impact on Turkey."

The Falcons are believed to be an offshoot of the much larger PKK and are thought to have several hundred militants. They are believed to largely made up of Kurds who fled fighting the southeast and now live in slums ringing Turkish cities in the west.

They have accused the PKK of weakness and claim to be attracting PKK guerrillas to their ranks. Many analysts, however, believe that they are closely allied with and possibly even directed by the PKK leadership.

On Sunday, three bombs struck the tourist resort of Marmaris, injuring 21 people. The following day, a bomb tore through a main street in the beachside Mediterranean city of Antalya killing three and injuring at least 20 including tourists from Israel, Germany and Russia.

But the attacks have not had much of an immediate impact.

"The problem was always here, I knew," said Italian Stefano Mincu, 35, who was walking down the beachside boardwalk in Antalya with his girlfriend.

Some 20 million foreign tourists visited Turkey last year. In Europe, tour operators said that there had been few cancellations after the recent bombings.

"Very few people cancel on the basis of these kind of cases," said Mirjam Dresme of the Dutch industry association of tour operators, ANVR.

The attacks also were "fairly late in the season, so people who booked their holidays will go on," Binnie said, adding that the attacks were not large and dramatic enough to shock people into not traveling to Turkey.

"People will probably forget about it next year when they book their holidays," he said. "It is not the most effective campaign."



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