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Wed 24 Oct 2007 10:16 AM

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Turkey-Kurd tensions threaten to boil over

News agency with links to PKK publishes pictures of eight Turkish soldiers taken hostage.

Tensions between Turkey and separatist Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq threatened to boil over on Tuesday when a news agency with close links to the rebels published what it said were pictures of eight Turkish soldiers taken hostage.

"The pictures show their health condition is pretty good," said the Firant news agency, which is based in western Europe.

The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) rebels said on Monday they had taken eight soldiers prisoner following an attack the previous day in which 17 Turkish soldiers were killed.

Turkey's military denied any of its men had been taken hostage, though it has confirmed that eight are still missing following Sunday's clashes in which 12 soldiers were killed.

Turkey has vowed to take tough action over the attack, which came four days after Turkey's parliament overwhelmingly approved a motion to allow troops to enter northern Iraq to fight the guerrillas.

The publication of the pictures came as Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday for talks with Iraqi leaders in an effort to pressure the Iraqi government to take action against the Kurdish rebels.

Ankara has intensified pressure on US and Iraqi authorities to stop the PKK from carrying out deadly attacks inside Turkey.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari promised to help Turkey crack down on the guerrillas following talks with his Turkish counterpart.

"I assured the minister that the Iraqi government will actively help Turkey to overcome this menace. We agreed that the position we should take is a common one to fight terrorism. We will not allow any party, including the PKK, to poison our bilateral relations," Zebari said.

At a joint news conference with Babacan, Zebari added: "We will cooperate with the Turkish government, to solve the border problems and the terrorism that Turkey is facing through direct dialogue."

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