Turkey bolsters its forces at border amid security concerns

Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 01:00

KILIS, Turkey – The Turkish military sent at least four convoys of vehicles carrying troops and missile batteries to the border with Syria yesterday amid growing concern in Turkey about security on its southern frontier, witnesses and news reports said.

It was the latest in a series of deployments in the region in recent weeks. There is no indication that Turkish forces will cross the border, and the troop movements may be strictly precautionary in the face of spiralling violence in Syria.

Two separate convoys of about 30 vehicles left a base in Gaziantep province to head south to Kilis and were now stationed along a fenced-off section on the border with Syria, witnesses said.

“This is part of a training exercise,” said a high-ranking officer in a second convoy of nine vehicles with armoured personnel carriers, tanks and other military vehicles.

A second officer in the convoy said the troops would remain on the Turkish side of the border.

The state-run Anatolian news agency said ammunition and military vehicles were brought by rail to the town of Islahiye in Gaziantep from the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun.

In a fourth troop movement, military vehicles were moved to Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, further east from Kilis and Gaziantep, and were now stationed at the Syrian border, Anatolian said.

Turkey, a member of Nato, has in recent months conducted a number of troop deployments along its 911km border with Syria, which is in the throes of an insurgency seeking to topple its president, Bashar al-Assad.

Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, a former Assad ally, is now among his most vocal critics, calling for him to step down amid the 16-month uprising that has killed thousands of Syrian civilians. Tensions between the neighbours hit a peak on June 22nd, when Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military reconnaissance aircraft, killing two pilots.

Kilis houses a major refugee centre for Syrians fleeing the violence at home. About 44,000 refugees are in Turkey.

Mr Erdogan last week warned the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has launched attacks in Turkey, against setting up camps inside northern Syria.

That area, which has a large Kurdish population, has been spared much of the violence seen elsewhere in Syria, but Turkey is worried the PKK could exert influence there amid a power vacuum and threaten Turkish security.

The PKK has waged a 27-year campaign for autonomy in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast. – (Reuters)