Two months after a controversial military thrust into northern Iraq to flush out Kurdish separatists, Turkey has gained a respite in its battle against the rebels, but the divisive Kurdish problem seems far from solved.

Turkish and Western officials say Turkey met the limited goals of Operation Steel, as the 35,000-troop operation begun on March 20 was dubbed. The mission, Foreign Ministry officials say, was to destroy the infrastructure, disrupt the supply lines and capture the weapons of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which had become entrenched in northern Iraq in rear bases used to launch attacks into Turkey.

Turkey sent a smaller force -- reportedly up to two brigades, or about 6,000 troops -- into northern Iraq today, killing 57 separatist guerrillas, military spokesmen said. A military statement said Turkish forces had been crossing the border for two days in pursuit of PKK rebels, the Reuter news agency reported. The statement did not report the location of the newest action.

{In Washington, the United States urged Turkey in a brief Pentagon statement to protect civilians and limit the size and duration of the new operation.}

The March incursion, widely criticized abroad but largely supported at home, also was timed to discourage any spring guerrilla offensive, such as previous ones that have occurred around the March 21 Nawruz festival, a Zoroastrian New Year's holiday observed by Kurds and others in the region. Turkey withdrew its troops from Iraq in early May.

Officials say that by chasing PKK guerrillas from northern Iraq, even if only temporarily, Turkey bought itself time in its military campaign and was able to divert 50,000 Turkish troops from border operations to concentrate on the second phase of the operation. That was a sweep of Turkey's mountainous Tunceli region, where about 1,500 to 2,000 militants are believed to be living in caves and other hideouts.

Foreign Ministry officials say 586 guerrillas and 56 Turkish troops were killed before today's incursion in northern Iraq and that 200 rebels have been killed so far in Tunceli.

But Turkish, Iraqi Kurdish and private aid officials confirm that PKK guerrillas are returning to northern Iraq. Furthermore, a Foreign Ministry official said that guerrilla units remain in Greece, southern Cyprus, Syria and Iran, whence several cross-border attacks into Turkey were launched in mid-June. The rebels also receive support from Kurdish associations in Europe, the official said.

As Ankara continues to wage this multi-front military campaign against the PKK, it faces continued pressure on related political fronts, as domestic opposition groups and Western nations continue to urge the government to democratize and improve human rights for Turkey's 12 million Kurds and all other citizens.

The government's effort against the PKK in the southeast -- involving between 300,000 and 350,000 troops and billions of dollars -- has succeeded over the last year in restoring security and lowering the level of violence in the region's cities, Turkish and Western officials say. But the countryside remains unsafe.

PKK cross-border operations continue, with the guerrillas making tactical use of the region's difficult mountainous terrain. Two PKK attacks in mid-June on national police posts in Van and Hakkari provinces near the Turkish borders with Iran and Iraq reportedly were launched from Iran, where PKK forces fled from northern Iraq before the Turkish incursion.

Referring to the attacks, in which more than 20 government troops were reported killed, the Turkish vice general chief of staff, Ahmet Corekci, was quoted in the English-language Turkish Daily News as saying that the PKK had set up tent camps in the Umraniye and Mako districts of Iran.

"We have determined there are around 270 to 350 terrorists based in these areas," Corekci was quoted as saying, "and we estimated these people could launch attacks against us in Yuksekova in Hakkari and Baskale near Van."

Launching a Turkish operation into Iran in hot pursuit of the guerrillas was ruled out by the government, but Turkish and Iranian officials "agreed to take joint measures against the separatists," Corekci told journalists.

Turkey has complained that it was forced to go into northern Iraq last spring and several times in the past few years in hot pursuit of PKK rebels because of the power vacuum in northern Iraq. The Iraqi Kurdish administration there has collapsed because of fighting between the two main Iraqi Kurdish groups, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Ankara also complained at the time that Operation Provide Comfort -- a U.S., British, French and Turkish airborne effort to protect Iraqi Kurds from the Baghdad government of Saddam Hussein -- was hampering Turkey's battle against the PKK because it contributed to a lack of central authority in Iraq.

Last week, however, the Turkish Parliament voted to allow Provide Comfort to continue operating from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey. Despite growing popular opposition to Provide Comfort by those who claim it has worn out its welcome and created a haven for rebel Kurds, a Foreign Ministry official said the government's position is in line with the U.S. view that Provide Comfort should be ended only when the security of northern Iraq is assured.

To increase security along its border with Iraq, the Turks are negotiating a deal with the Kurdistan Democratic Party to police the Iraqi border in exchange for aid from the Turkish government to build housing, roads and other infrastructure in the region. An Iranian-brokered cease-fire between the two Iraqi Kurdish groups reportedly has been extended to mid-August, although the region remains divided between the two factions.

The PKK, which has burned schools and killed teachers and families of state-paid village guards, is termed a terrorist group by the United States, France and Germany. Thus, Washington and other Western government support Turkey's 11-year battle against the guerrillas but contend that a solely military solution to the problem is not possible.

"The solution to the Kurdish problem will come when the the Turks get on with democratization," said one Western diplomat, arguing that if Turkey eases restrictions on freedom of expression and permits wider political participation, the nation's Kurds will benefit along with the rest of the population.

Foreign Ministry officials quietly concede that perhaps it will not be possible to wipe out the guerrillas and that a more realistic goal is to reduce the level of violence in the country to a "tolerable" level. About 16,000 people have been killed in the conflict since it began in 1984.

But Turkey's political-military establishment continues to consider the Kurdish conflict a terrorist problem and rules out any discussion of broader rights for the Kurds, such as Kurdish-language broadcasts and education.

The PKK is "not after cultural rights or increased freedom," President Suleyman Demirel said in a recently published interview. "What they want is a separate flag."

While standing firm on the Kurdish issue, Prime Minister Tansu Ciller has begun efforts to realize long-promised government reforms.

She is under pressure from European Union nations to improve the climate of democracy and human rights before a customs union agreement between Turkey and the EU can be finalized.

But constitutional amendments introduced last month in Parliament designed to provide wider political participation have stumbled, with only seven of the proposed 21 measures receiving qualified approval in the first round of debate and voting.

Another democratization measure long promised by Ciller is the lifting of Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, which forbids the dissemination of separatist propaganda and has been used to restrict freedom of expression. Scores of journalists, writers, academics and scientists have been jailed under the provision.