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Turkey withdrawing military observers from northern Iraq

Updated:
ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ Turkey is withdrawing the last of its military observers from northern Iraq, where they had been deployed since 1997 to oversee a cease-fire between two rival Kurdish factions, a government official said Sunday.

There is no reduction, however, in the several thousand Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq, who have been hunting Turkish Kurdish rebels in the mountains for years, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Turkish military observers were sent to northern Iraq to supervise a British and U.S.-backed truce between the region's two main Kurdish factions, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party. The two factions had been fighting for control of an autonomous region in northern Iraq since 1991.

The official said the withdrawal would take place in the coming days.

The observers ``played an important role in bringing peace to the north of Iraq,'' he said. ``Now, the mission of the (observers) is over,'' he said.

The areas controlled by the KDP and PUK have been largely peaceful in recent years. The observer mission was expected to be withdrawn shortly after the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The number of Turkish military observers currently in northern Iraq is around 30, according to Turkish media. The observers numbered about 400 in the 1990s.

Turkey has asked the United States to help crack down on Kurdish rebels based across the border in northern Iraq.

Turkish Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy in southeastern Turkey fought Turkish troops for 15 years. Some 37,000 people were killed before the rebels suspended hostilities in 1999, following the capture of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

Turkey's Kurdish minority accounts for about 20 percent of the country's population of 68 million.

The Kurdish rebels announced last month that they were ending their unilateral cease-fire.
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