- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey, Feb. 21 (UPI) — Turkey is seeking to impose a blackout on reporting events in northern Iraq by banning journalists from crossing the border between the two states, Turkish journalists charged Friday.

A member of the Turkish media, who had just returned from the border town of Silopi, said Turkish forces have stepped up security measures in the area and refused to allow any journalists, Turkish or foreign, to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan.

Silopi is situated 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the crossing point on the Habur river that lies on the road connecting Turkey and Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdish officials report Western journalists have been told in recent days by Turkish embassies abroad that they would be allowed to use the Habur gate. But, the officials say, so far no journalists have been able to do so.

Western analysts said the Turkish ban sought to achieve two goals. One was to deny the Iraqi Kurds favorable reporting in the world media. In recent years, Turkey fought a long, bloody and costly insurgency among its own Kurds and fears the example of the prospering autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region could fuel renewed separatist aspirations at home.

The other reason, the analysts say, is to prevent the media from observing whatever actions the Turkish military may take in the region.

Turkey has increased its military presence inside Iraq in recent weeks and massed troops on its side of the border. Turkey opposes but expects an American invasion of Iraq soon to topple its leader, Saddam Hussein.

Ankara has warned that it would use force to prevent the emergence of an independent Iraqi Kurdish state and is promoting an Iraqi Turkmen Front to counter the Kurdish parties that govern in the area that lies beyond Saddam's control.

The ITF rejects the authority of the Kurdish administrations and is demanding an autonomous zone of its own.

Ankara barred the way for non-governmental organizations seeking to enter Iraq in 1993 and later for journalists. At the time the Turkish armed forces were in Iraqi Kurdistan in pursuit of Turkish Kurdish insurgents driven out of southeastern Turkey.

Despite the ban, foreign media teams have managed to enter Iraqi Kurdistan, passing through the region's other neighboring states, Iran and Syria. In recent weeks scores of Western and Asian journalists have reached Irbil, the major city in the western area of controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

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