TEHRAN — Tehran's forces will finish off armed Kurdish rebels who are based in Iraq in the "coming days", a top commander said Monday, while the separatist group claimed it was now located in Iranian territory.
Tehran has since July been carrying out a major offensive against the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), halting only during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, while the rebel group called for a truce two weeks ago.
"The scroll of the terrorist group PJAK will be rolled up in the coming days and full security shall be restored to the border areas," Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, Iran's ground forces commander, told Vatan Emrouz newspaper.
PJAK rebels "are now in a weak position and their activities have been greatly reduced," Pourdastan said, adding the group was no longer considered a "threat."
Saeed Khan, a senior PJAK official, told AFP the separatist group had left Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region because it had issued a call for a ceasefire and did not want to put local civilians in danger.
"That does not mean we are afraid of Iran, and we are ready to repel any attacks," he said. "We are now located in Iranian land."
Khan claimed PJAK had killed 600 Iranian soldiers since the July offensive began, but this could not be independently confirmed.
In July, Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards launched its offensive against PJAK, shelling districts near the border in northern Iraq for weeks and killing dozens including the rebel's deputy commander.
Dozens of casualties have also been reportedly inflicted on the Guards.
The Guards, supported by the army's ground forces, halted the operation during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but resumed it on September 2.
The elite force has rejected a ceasefire call by PJAK, saying the Kurdish rebels have no choice but to lay down arms or leave the border areas.
Iran accuses Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region of providing the PJAK with a vast safe haven along the border.
Despite protests from Baghdad, Iranian military officials have declared their intention to keep up the offensive, until Iraqi forces are deployed to the border area to prevent the rebels from launching attacks against Iran.
The PJAK, labelled as terrorists by Tehran, has often clashed with Iranian forces in recent years, drawing retaliatory bombing of their rear-bases in mountainous border districts of Iraqi Kurdistan.
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