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Paper: Turkey Troops Kill 20 Rebels

February 11, 1998

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Turkish troops have killed at least 20 Kurdish guerrillas in fighting in northern Iraq, a newspaper reported today.

Turkish armored units, reinforced by fighter jets and helicopter gunships, have been clashing with the guerrillas near Metina mountain, close to the Turkish border, since Monday night, the daily Sabah said.

The report was immediately denied by the Turkish general staff.

``We have no soldiers inside northern Iraq,″ a military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press today. ``The report was made up.″

Turkish forces often cross the Iraqi border to hit Kurdish rebel groups. Other military officials have acknowledged that some Turkish troops remained on patrol in northern Iraq after entering last summer.

Turkey is reportedly reinforcing a buffer zone in northern Iraq to stop an anticipated stream of Iraqi refugees in case of a U.S. military operation against Iraq. Press reports say tens of thousands of Turkish troops were preparing for such a mission.

Hundreds of Iraqi Kurdish refugees poured across the Turkish border after the 1991 Gulf War.

Turkish Kurdish guerrillas, fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey since 1984, often launch hit-and-run attacks from their bases in northern Iraq. Turkey has carried out several incursions into Iraq to attack them.

The war between Turkish troops and the Kurdish guerrillas have killed 37,000 people so far.

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