The US military has supplied weapons to Kurdish militants training in northern Iraq, according to four recent PKK defectors presented to the press Sunday by the Turkish military.
"We have seen that two American armored vehicles brought various weapons to our base at Mount Qandil," one of them said during the press conference, held at a Turkish paramilitary police base in southeastern Sirnak province.
The four ex-militants claimed they had been misled into joining the group, and said they escaped from a PKK training camp in northern Iraq over the weekend before turning themselves in to Turkish authorities. The three men and one woman, who all wore masks during Sunday's media appearance, have sparked a fury of speculation in the Turkish media.
Asked about the ex-rebels' claims of US assistance, the American embassy in Ankara reiterated Washington's view that the PKK is a terrorist organization. "We do not speak to them, we have no contacts with them," embassy spokeswoman Kathryn Schalow told Reuters.
In addition to the bombshell of allegations against the US, the masked PKK defectors also reported how the militant group has reacted to the recent threats of military action by Turkish officials.
"In the last few days the rumors of a cross-border operation has triggered fear within the organisation (PKK). All the camps have been emptied," one of the ex-rebels said.
A game of border brinksmanship has been underway since the summertime reinforcements of the Turkish military began to arrive in late May, but the past week has seen heightened rhetoric, and more serious indications a cross-border operation could be imminent.
The head of the Turkish military, Chief of General Staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, spoke of the need for an incursion into northern Iraq at a press conference last Wednesday, acknowledging that some planning discussions had occurred, but also saying the operation would require political directive from the government.
Then foreign minister Abdullah Gül told the Radikal daily in an interview published Friday that Turkey had prepared detailed plans for a cross-border operation into Iraq and would use them if US or Iraqi forces failed to tackle the PKK.
"The military plans have been worked out in the finest detail. The government knows these plans and agrees with them," Gül told the daily. Speaking about the need to strike the PKK in northern Iraq, Gül added, "If neither the Iraqi government nor the US occupying forces can do this, we will make our own decision and implement it."
In light of Gul's remarks, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government, took a strong stance rejecting Turkish threats, but also made a conciliatory turn.
"We will defend ourselves against any state that attacks us," Barzani said in an interview with Germany's Deutsche Welle public radio on Friday.
"I hope that Turkey doesn't mean these threats seriously because that would be a catastrophe for the entire region," Barzani added.
"We appeal to Turkey to turn to the language of dialogue instead of threats. We're ready for compromise and dialogue," he concluded.