UN refugee chief warns of refugee crisis in N Iraq

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BRUSSELS, Oct 16 (Reuters) The UN's refugee chief warned today of the danger of a refugee crisis in northern Iraq, a day after Turkey's cabinet asked parliament for permission to launch an attack there against Kurdish separatists.

''The northern governorate, or Kurdistan ... has been the most stable area of Iraq,'' United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told reporters in Brussels. ''It is an area also where you find Iraqis from the south and central Iraq who came seeking security.

''I can only express our very deep concern about any development that might lead to meaningful displacements of population in that sensitive area,'' Guterres said.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said securing parliament's permission for the operations against Kurds, who use Iraqi bases for attacks inside Turkey, did not necessarily mean actions were imminent.

''I sincerely wish that this motion will never be applied,'' he said.

Parliament is expected to pass the motion yesterday allowing cross-border operations over a year.

The United States and the European Union have urged restraint from Turkey, a key NATO ally strategically located between Europe and West Asia. Turkey argues the United States and Iraq have not done enough to quell Kurdish separatist activity.

REUTERS GL PM1508

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